Dharmapuri (TN): Nearly two decades after
the infamous incident, a special court on Thursday sentenced 215 men
from police, forest and revenue department to jail terms
ranging from one to 10 years for atrocities on tribals during
a raid for smuggled sandalwood on the remote Vachathi village.
Pronouncing the verdict, special judge-cum-principal
district and sessions judge S Kumaraguru held guilty 126
forest personnel, including four IFS officers, 84 men from
police and five from the revenue department.
Out of the 269 accused, 54 died during the pendency of
the trial in the case investigated by the CBI.
Seventeen men were sentenced to seven years of rigorous
imprisonment on rape charge. Of them, 12 were sentenced to an
additional RI of 10 years for committing offences under the
SC/ST Act with the sentence running concurrently.
The rest were awarded imprisonment ranging from one to
three years. Most of the convicted were aged and some
struggled to stand during proceedings in the packed courtroom.
The case had come under the scanner of the National Human
Rights Commission and human rights bodies with the officials
being accused of unleashing brutalities during the raid on the
nondescript Vachathi village in the district.
According to CBI, on June 20, 1992 a team comprising 155
forest personnel, 108 police persons and six revenue officials
entered Vachathi and allegedly dragged out villagers from
their homes, assaulted about 100 of them, detained women and
children and raped 18 tribals besides ransacking properties.
They faced charges under various IPC sections including
147 (rioting), 376 (rape), 342 (wrongful confinement) and 201
(causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving false
information to screen offender).
Cases were also filed against the accused under
Prevention of Atrocities to SC/ST Act, 1989.
The court also ordered that the rape victims were
entitled to compensation of Rs 15,000 each.
The Supreme Court had directed a CBI probe on a petition
filed by the Tamil Nadu Tribal People Association president
P Shanmugam whose fact-finding committee found that 18 women
were raped and 64 women and 15 men beaten up.
Taking over the case in 1995, CBI had filed charge sheet
against 269 personnel before the CBI court in Coimbatore a
year later. In 2002, the Madras High Court ordered the setting
up of a special court to conduct the trial.
Some of the convicted pleaded innocence and asked for
lesser punishment in the court.
The villagers, for whom it was nearly a two-decade wait
for justice, said there should be harsher punishment for those
who committed the crimes. Family members of those convicted
said they would file an appeal against the judgement.
Happy with the judicial outcome, the villagers took out a
rally from court premises to the Dharmapuri bus stand.
"It`s a historic judgement and tribal people have won the
case after struggling for 19 years," Dillibabu, MLA of Harur
in Dharmapuri district, said.