Villagers, however, to fight for enhanced compensation

From a village that remained benumbed for long by atrocities committed 19 years ago during a search operation for smuggled sandalwood, Vachathi was in a celebratory mood on Friday, after the Dharmapuri District Sessions Court handed jail terms for all the accused.

There was a sense of pride among the people on having fought a tough and long drawn-out legal battle and won it, said Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA from Harur P. Dillibabu.

The tribal people who were subjected to harassment and sexual abuse by a massive team from the forest, police and revenue departments had reason to cheer more than 19 years after the incident, he said. But, the villagers and Mr. Babu also got down to the task of seeking compensation higher than what was awarded.

The people felt that the compensation of Rs.15,000 for each of the 18 rape victims was inadequate, given the trauma the incidents on June 20, 1992 inflicted on them.

The Tamil Nadu Tribals Association and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were now planning legal measures to get maximum compensation. “We will fight to get enhanced compensation, as prescribed in the various sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989,” he said.

President of the association P. Shanmugam told The Hindu that discussions were on with leading lawyers in Chennai on moving the High Court for enhanced compensation to the rape victims.

Efforts would also be made to seek a higher compensation for victims of assault and other forms of rights violations.

The earlier compensation of Rs.1.25 crore for all the victims was inadequate.

Accused in Vellore Prison

Meanwhile, all the 17 persons convicted and sentenced for rape were lodged in Vellore Central Prison late on Thursday after being initially ordered to be lodged in the prison in Salem. Police said they were taken to Vellore on orders issued by the Principal District and Sessions S. Kumaraguru late in the night.

The convicts underwent a medical test at the Dharmapuri Medical College Hospital before being taken to Vellore.

The other accused were given bail for one month to appeal against this verdict in the High Court. After pronouncing the verdict on Thursday, the District Sessions Court gave them the option of going on appeal against it within one month.

They should also produce a copy of the appeal to the Sessions Court before October 31, 2001, failing which arrest warrants would be issued against them, court sources said here on Friday.