Justice for Vachathi

Justice for Vachathi

The conviction of 215 persons for the heinous crimes that they committed in Vachathi, a village in Dharmapuri district in northern Tamil Nadu, more than 19 years ago is an affirmation of justice. All the convicted persons were government servants of different departments like the police, revenue and forest, who had unleashed violence on the village on suspicion that the villagers were involved in the smuggling of sandalwood and were protecting brigand Veerappan. It was difficult to believe that the officials would conduct themselves the way they did. They pillaged and looted property, assaulted men and children, raped women and young girls and destroyed houses and the entire village. Eighteen rape cases were reported. It was like a marauding army letting itself go in enemy territory. People who were expected to uphold the rule of law turned into violators of the law.

The attackers included top officials, including those from the forest service, and others from lower levels. Since so many persons were involved it is clear that the attack was well planned. The CBI did a good job in making a thorough investigation and presenting a strong case in court. No one among the 269 persons who were charge-sheeted could escape punishment, except 54 persons who died during the course of the trial. They were all awarded varying terms of imprisonment. Since the village population consisted mostly of tribals, the attackers had thought that they could get away with their crime. But justice finally prevailed, though there has been a long delay in its dispensation.

The case will be remembered as a landmark in social struggle also. The attackers were powerful and were from the high echelons of society. The victims were poor, disorganised and vulnerable. But the people of the village stood united and waged a long struggle, supported by social and human rights organisations. The struggle helped them to heighten their awareness about their own rights. The attack on Vachathi is not the only one of its kind in the country. Its scale was big and therefore it attracted much attention. Smaller Vachathis happen in many other places and the culprits are not always brought to book. The victory of the poor Tamil Nadu villagers should give hope and courage to others like them and serve as a warning to the high and mighty against taking the law into their hands.


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