DHARMAPURI: Time has done little to heal the wounds on the minds of the people of Vachathi tribal village. It was in this village on the foothills of Chitteri hills, around 60 kms from Dharmapuri town, that on the fateful day of June 20, 1992, over 200 public servants had unleashed a reign of terror, which shook Tamil Nadu to its soul.
Come June 20, it would be the 22nd anniversary of the incident. However, in the two decades that have passed since then, nothing has changed for the people, who still are afraid to talk of the event fearing backlash by officials. In a bid to make the administration aware of their plight, the villagers have decided to stage an indefinite protest from June 25.
After hours of persuasion, a few victims finally opened up to Express. Chitra (name changed), one of the 18 victims who was raped by the policemen, said, “ The officials forcibly took us to the range office in Harur and raped us. Of the 18 women, 12 were not married. We cried and begged them to leave us, but to no avail.”
Chitra’s husband Chinnadurai took over the narration at this point as she could no longer hold back the tears. “They booked false cases against us. We lost our youth walking in and out of court, and that too for no mistake of ours. The banyan tree in the village is the sole witness to the atrocities the officials had unleashed on the villagers. After years of struggle the guilty officials were brought to book, but what end this has achieved? We still have not got justice,” Chinnadurai said. The village lacked in even the basic amenities, and the court ordered compensation was yet to reach the victims, he claimed. “The DMK government had built houses for the rape victims, however, none of them is in good condition,” he added. Of the 1,500-odd Vachathi Malayalee tribals in the settlement, only 10 got government jobs.
On June 20, 1992, more than 200 government officials had entered the village and raided each and every house searching for sandalwood allegedly hidden by the tribals. All the men and women were assembled under a banyan tree and mercilessly beaten up. Later, all of them were taken to the Forest Office in Harur, where 18 women were raped by policemen and other officials. By the next evening, all were lodged in the Salem prison.
It took the victims over two months to come out on bail. It was then that the CPI (Marxist) took up the issue and fought for the tribal people.
After 19 years of prolonged struggle, the tribals finally won the case, in which 269 officials were convicted.