Vachathi, a tribal village at the foot-hills of Chittheri range in Dharmapuri
District is a small hamlet with about 200 dwelling units. The forest officials and
politicians with the connivance of police have been indulging in sandalwood
smuggling. On 20.6.1992 in a large contingent of forest officials went to Vachathi for
unearthing sandalwood that was buried along the river bed, close to the village.
They wanted some of the tribals to ‘own up’ the guilt for smuggling sandalwood and
when they refused, there was a scuffle in which a forest official suffered an injury.
The tribals themselves gave him first aid and sent him to the hospital in a bullock
Angered by the attack on the forester, the forest officials held the tribals
hostage under the banyan tree in the village and in a few hours more forest officials
along with police and revenue officials descended on the village, ransacked every
house, not sparing even certificates and documents of the tribals including ration
cards, school certificates, etc. Women including a 13 year old girl were taken to the
river bed and raped. More than 100 villagers, mostly women, were arrested and
taken to the Forest Range Office in Harur and all along the way and in the office,
women were sexually abused.
These incidents came to light, the then leaders of the Tamil Nadu Tribals
Association including Com. Bashajan and Com. Annamalai, the CPI (M) MLA of Harur
contacted the tribals and gathered information about the incidents. It was only on
August 22, 1992 that the women victims of rape were able to give a complaint to the
Harur Police with the help of Com. Annamalai which was not acted upon by the
police under successive governments in the state, irrespective of the political party in
The incident did send shock waves through the sections of the people who
came to know of it. Several groups other than the CPI (M) and its mass
organizations visited Vachathi, including the Commissioner for SC/ST and the PUCL.
The Commissioner for SC/ST recommended in her report to the government that
investigation should be ordered into the allegations of rape made by the tribal
The 29 th September 2023 judgment of the Madras High Court in Vachathi Case
confirming the conviction and sentence of the 215 out of 269 (-54 have died since
1992) accused forest, police and revenue officials, is a landmark in the history of
Indian Judiciary. There are many facts which are significant in this case:
The Petition given by the Tamil Nadu Tribals Association to the then Public
Interest Litigation Cell headed by the first woman judge (retired) of the
Madras High Court, was rejected stating ‘no action is proposed to be taken on
A Writ Petition was filed by late Com. A. Nallasivan (then Rajya Sabha M.P.),
Secretary of the CPI(M), Tamil Nadu under Article 32 of the Constitution of
India before the Supreme Court. On 8.9.1992, the Apex Court transferred the
Writ Petition to the Madras High Court with a direction to deal with the case
at the earliest.
The complaint dated 22.8.1992 made by 18 tribal women of Vachathi who
were victims of rape to the Harur Police Station was not registered by the
police till date. It was the CBI that registered the case after the order of the
High Court dated 24.02.1995 and filed the charge-sheet dated 23.04.1996.
The Harur Police Station registered a ‘foisted’ case against 105 tribals, out of
which 96 were women, on a complaint made by the Assistant Conservator of
Forests (F.I.R.No.970 of 1992 dated 20.6.1992) and also filed Charge-
sheet No.170 of 1994 dated 04.05.1994.
The aforesaid 105 tribals were booked under Scheduled Timber Offences and
detained in Salem Jail.
The writ petition before the Madras High Court sought an investigation into
the incidents of June 20-22, 1992 in Vachathi village, action against the
offenders, compensation to victims, rehabilitation measures for the villagers
and an inquiry into the politician- forest officials- police nexus in
sandalwood smuggling in the area. But, however, based on material facts, on
24.02.1995, the High Court ordered CBI investigation.
Higher officials of Forest, Police, Revenue Departments and the Government
denied that any such incident had taken place.
The CBI registered a case and filed a charge-sheet on 23.04.1996 naming 269
accused- A1 to A155 forest officials, A156 to A263 police officials and A264 to
A269 revenue officials.
The tribals had to seek orders from the High Court for every step to make a
progress in conducting the trial – for Bata to attend court, appointment of
special public prosecutor of CBI, for prescribed statutory compensation under
the Act and Rules and for protection during test identification parade. In fact,
even the magistrate who conducted the test identification parade had to seek
All 269 accused were convicted on 29.09.2011 by the trial court.
17 rape offenders among the accused were detained for the first time after
1992 on 29.09.2011, that is, 19 years after committing the crime.
The charge-sheet in the false case against the 105 tribals was quashed by the
Madras High Court on 15.11.2012.
The Madras High Court has now affirmed the conviction of all 215 (269-54)
The villagers of Vachathi stand vindicated. Their grit and perseverance have
been the main reason for this victory. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), its
cadres who stood by the tribals for more than 3 decades in their struggle for justice
have once again proved their mettle that they are with the marginalized in their
struggle for justice!
G.Chamki Raj, One of the Counsel for Writ Petitions filed
for Vachathi Villagers.
Vice-President, All India Lawyers Union.