In a momentous verdict, the Madras High Court delivered justice by upholding a sessions court’s ruling that found 215 officials, including forest, police, and revenue department personnel, guilty of egregious crimes, including sexual assault, during a harrowing 1992 raid in Vachathi, a tribal village in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district.
Justice P. Velmurugan, in his ruling, acknowledged the compelling and consistent evidence presented by the victims and prosecution witnesses. The incident, which occurred on June 20, 1992, during a sandalwood smuggling investigation, led to the widespread destruction of property and livestock, with 18 women becoming victims of brutal sexual assault.
In 2011, a sessions court in Dharmapuri had already found 126 forest personnel, including high-ranking officers, policemen, and revenue officials, guilty in connection with the case. Out of the 269 accused, 54 passed away during the trial, while the remaining 215 were sentenced to varying prison terms.
The High Court’s decision not only affirmed the guilt of the accused but also demanded immediate action. The court directed the sessions court to secure the custody of all convicted individuals for serving their remaining sentences. Furthermore, Justice Velmurugan ordered the Tamil Nadu government to promptly compensate each rape survivor with Rs 10 lakh, as previously mandated by a 2016 division bench ruling. Notably, half of this compensation will be recovered from the convicted offenders.
Taking a strong stand against administrative lapses, the court called for stringent actions against the then District Collector, Superintendent of Police, and District Forest Officer, who had shielded the culprits, leading to the victimization of innocent villagers.
Recognizing the need for holistic justice, Justice Velmurugan also directed the state government to ensure appropriate employment, either through self-employment initiatives or permanent jobs, for the 18 survivors or their family members. Moreover, the government was instructed to report back to the court on the measures taken to improve livelihoods and living conditions in Vachathi village post the incident, ensuring that the triumph of justice translates into tangible improvements for the community.
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