ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The State, Prejudice and the Marginalised

The adivasis of Vachati village in Tamil Nadu secure justice for state violence conducted two decades ago.

The judgment by the principal judge in Dharmapuri on the Vachati incidents of 20 June 1992 finally punishes the law enforcement agencies for at least one event of what has become a horrific pattern in parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka since the 1990s – the brutal persecution of adivasis, particularly the “denotified tribes”, dalits and other marginalised groups. In an unprecedented judgment, 215 officials from the police, revenue and forest departments of the Government of Tamil Nadu were pronounced guilty of various crimes, with 17 of them guilty of rape. All the 269 officials who had been arraigned as accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had probed the incidents in the village after the Madras High Court directed it to do so in 1995, were found guilty, but 54 of them have since died. (See “When Public Servants Came Calling at Vachati”, pp 32-33 for the details of the atrocities and the follow-up.

Dharmapuri district, where Vachati is located, was and remains amongst the poorest districts of Tamil Nadu. The Malayali adivasis of Vachati had been subjected to a “crackdown” for three days by government officials who suspected them of illegally hoarding sandalwood taken from the forests nearby. During the crackdown, many women of the village were raped, many kept in illegal confinement, and houses were damaged as mass violence was perpetrated by government officials. If not for the steps taken by the adivasi and women’s mass organisations of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to approach the courts and by the CBI to meticulously investigate the claims of the adivasis, justice would never have been delivered – even if it has taken 19 years for it to be handed down.

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