Twenty years ago, a party of Tamil Nadu police and forest officials tore apart the small hill village of Vachathi in a rampage, but for the villagers the day is still with them even though they have got justice of a sort.
TEXT BY SURESH P THOMAS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LAIJU YESH
Vachathi is a name that has a certain resonance as a place of infamy, but 20 years ago it was just another tribal village in the hills of Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district. No one living in it was aware that its anonymity was about to end in the worst possible way.
Indeed, 20 years ago, Perumal, then 50, must have considered himself blessed by the gods. He was so popular that villagers thought of him as the oor gounder (village chieftain) even though his tenure had run its course. Two decades ago, he did not consider the Forest Department and the police as public enemies, a mistake that cost him heavily.
On June 20, 1992, 269 government officials, comprising 155 forest department officers, 108 policemen and six revenue officials reached Vachathi, which lies at the foot of the Sitheri hills. Perumal’s village, home to 2000 Malayalis or the hill people, a Scheduled Tribe, had little inkling of the horrors to unfold.
A man of upright posture and plain talk, he asks: “I was not a criminal. So why should I have run?”
It was close to 4 pm, the village drenched in a dusty golden yellow by a westering sun. The forest officials and police had been in the village for over an hour. They had set in motion the events that would form the premise of the Vachathi case.
The Forest Protection Squad, led by then Assistant Conservator of Forests T Singaravelu had conducted a raid in the morning to recover “smuggled sandalwood” buried in Vachathi’s fields, and had thrashed Chinnaperumal, a farmer working his field. They accused him of helping the smugglers by burying sandalwood in the bed of the Varattar river. Chinnaperumal said he was innocent, but he was subjected to brutal assault. A scuffle followed when the villagers questioned the Forest Protection Squad and one of the team members, Forester R Selvaraj, was injured. He was given first aid, and was taken to hospital in a bullock cart arranged by the villagers.
The kirana store merchant is the stereotype adulterator in popular Indian culture. He adds metanil yellow to turmeric, powdered brick to chilli, stones to rice, and so on. His ...
In rural Chhattisgarh, haunted by poverty and fragile healthcare, a 55-year-old man weighs only 28kg; an eight-year-old boy will die of rabies because his labourer parents work ...