Visakhapatnam

The long fight for justice: on the Vakapalli incident

About 10 years ago, Vakapalli, a nondescript village in Nurmati Panchayat in G. Madugula mandal of Visakha Agency, would not have even figured in the Google Map, let alone it be known to a common man or to an official in the revenue department of the district. Today, the village’s name is echoing in the corridors of the Supreme Court to the DGP’s office in Amaravati and to the special court rooms in Visakhapatnam.

The secluded and serene village, primarily inhabited by Kondhu and Konda Dora tribes, both listed under the PVTG (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group), is tucked on the slopes of a hill, in the interior parts of G. Madugula mandal. The nearest villages for it are Nurmati and Majjigaruvu located about 4 km from Vakapalli on either side.

The residents eke out a living by growing crops such as turmeric and ragi and an occasional paddy crop.

On August 20, 2007, peace in the village was shattered when 11 women from the Kondhu tribe, all in the age group of 20 to 30 years, were allegedly gangraped by 21 personnel of the elite anti-naxal force of Andhra Pradesh, the Greyhounds. Ten years later, things have not changed and peace has not returned to the once tranquil village.

“We are still hounded by the police, looked down upon by our neighbours and are object of ‘stares’ at the weekly shandies (market place). Even our husbands and children are at times ostracised. Initially, even our husbands deserted us, but they returned after understanding that we were forced upon and we could do nothing against 21 men armed with guns,” said one of the victims.

Two of the 11 victims have died, and the victims say that they are yet to get justice.

“Forget justice, the trial is yet to begin and the victims have been running from pillar post from the Andhra Pradesh High Court to the Supreme Court for the last 10 years, just to see that they get a fair trial,” said State general secretary of Human Rights Forum (HRF), V.S. Krishna.

Rewind

Recounting the incident to The Hindu, when the scribe and the photographer visited the village on Thursday, one of the victims said, “It was around 6 a.m. when our menfolk had gone to the fields for podu cultivation, and we were busy with our household chores or tending to the turmeric fields, about 21 police personnel trooped into the village, and without any provocation pulled some of us into the huts and others into the turmeric fields and started raping us at gunpoint.”

The long fight for justice: on the Vakapalli incident
 

According to the victims, it was only after the men returned that a word was sent to the Paderu BSP MLA Lake Raja Rao at around noon. The MLA rushed to the village along with mediapersons from Paderu after which the news filtered out by around 3 p.m. The women went along with the MLA to the Paderu Sub-Collector and recounted the incident, upon which he asked the DSP to register a case. An FIR was lodged under Sections 376 (ii) (g) IPC (gang rape) and section 3 (2) (V) of the SC ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989.

Long wait

Since then, the women have been fighting a legal battle, clearing one hurdle after another. Initially, they took to agitations and dharnas to highlight the case, but it was only in April 2008, when the CB-CID gave a clean chit to the accused policemen that the victims approached the Paderu Magisterial Court and filed a protest petition, seeking the court to accept as a private petition.

In August 2008, the Paderu Court accepted the petition and immediately thereafter the accused policemen approached the Andhra Pradesh High Court to get a stay.

After hearing both the sides, Justice Seshasayana Reddy of AP High Court in April 2012 ordered that the criminal case of gang rape will continue against 13 police men and acquitted the other 8 policemen, on the grounds that they were part of the contour party and were outside the village. In the same year in August, the 13 policemen approached the Supreme Court and obtained a stay on the HC order.

“They may by uneducated and simpletons, but they have loads of courage to take on the administration head-on. They exhibited raw courage and fought tooth and nail to get the stay vacated. It was not an easy task for them to get the stay vacated at the Supreme Court. It took them almost nine years,” said Mr. Krishna.

On September 1, 2017, the stay was finally vacated and the apex court ordered a speedy trial and directed that it be handled by the Special Court constituted to handle SC /ST Atrocities Act in Visakhapatnam.

But ever since the Supreme Court had passed the order, the surviving victims had been demanding the choice of their Public Prosecutor, which is guaranteed by the Supreme Court and the provisions in the SC, ST (POA) Act.

The victims have been demanding the appointment of Palla Trinadha Rao as PP and Jaha Ara as APP.

Their plea in the AP High Court, was accepted on January 4, and the court allowed the victims to have their choice of PP, but it is learnt that the order is yet to reach the local special court.

Already, since October, there have been about four adjournments and the next hearing is scheduled for January 25, when a fresh schedule is likely to be given.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 3:33:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Visakhapatnam/the-long-fight-for-justice/article22483101.ece

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