Tamil Nadu: Another victory in Vachathi

Print edition : December 14, 2012

VICTIMS OF VACHATHI and their relatives with P. Dillibabu, CPI (M) MLA from Harur, in Dharmapuri in September 2011 after the trial court sentenced the surviving accused in the case to rigorous imprisonment ranging from two to 10 years.-VICTIMS OF VACHATHI and their relatives with P. Dillibabu, CPI (M) MLA from Harur, in Dharmapuri in September 2011 after the trial court sentenced the surviving accused in the case to rigorous imprisonment ranging from two to 10 years.

A MODERN-day tragedy bringing to reminiscence the stone and dark ages! This is how the Madras High Court described the violence unleashed on the tribal people of Vachathi village in Dharmapuri district two decades ago.

But Vachathi also became synonymous with valour, perseverance and determination, as the villagers, with the backing of the Tamil Nadu Tribals Association and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), launched a legal battle against all odds.

They won a resounding victory on September 29 last year, when all the 215 surviving persons of the 269 accusedincluding personnel of the Forest, Police and Revenue Departments of the Tamil Nadu governmentagainst whom the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed a charge sheet in 1996 were found guilty of committing atrocities against the villagers and sentenced by the trial court.

Bringing further relief to the Malayalee tribes of Vachathi village, the High Court has now invoked its inherent powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to quash a charge sheet that had been filed against 105 villagers, including 75 women. Justice G.M. Akbar Ali, in his common order on November 15, said: (T)his court is well aware of the fulcrum of the matter, viz., the atrocities committed in the Vachathi village in 1992.

About 300 personnel belonging to the Forest, Police and Revenue Departments stormed the village on June 20, 1992, ransacked the houses of the tribal people, destroyed their belongings and raped women. The court dubbed it a shameful and abhorrent act against defenceless people.

Close on the heels of the terror let loose on the villagers on the pretext of conducting a raid to unearth smuggled sandalwood, the uniformed personnel foisted a case of rioting, assault and intimidation on the tribal people. The case was registered by the Dharmapuri police on the basis of a complaint by an official of the Forest Department that a large number of villagers led by their headman humiliated and assaulted members of the raiding team. A charge sheet was also filed before the Judicial Magistrate, Harur, in 1999. The case was pending there for 13 years without any progress.

While the government advocate M.F. Shabana submitted that the trial proceedings could not be conducted owing to non-cooperation by the petitioners, K. Elango, counsel for the tribal people, said the case was foisted on the residents of Vachathi only to divert the attention of the public from the ruthless atrocities committed by the uniformed personnel.

Pointing out certain discrepancies in the charge sheet, the court said 75 women were included in it without any basis. The court also observed that for the last two decades, the tribal victims had been dragged to the court on a complaint which was obviously obtained and registered only after the commission of the atrocity in Vachathi village.

Allowing petitions by M. Perumal, the headman, and 104 others seeking to quash the proceedings against them, Justice Akbar Ali said, (T)hough the charge sheet has been filed, I have no hesitation to hold that the entire proceedings are attended with mala fide and no purpose would be served if the proceedings are allowed to be continued and that too after twenty years of the alleged incident.

S. Dorairaj
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