One of the investigating officers died, while the other one has been referred to a committee to be investigated for his actions.
The Adivasi women of Vakapally in the Alluri Sitharama Raju (ASR) district of Andhra Pradesh, who waited for justice for more than 16 years, now feel dejected, disillusioned, and angry at the “system”.
After all, 21 special-party policemen who were accused of raping Adivasi women in 2007 were acquitted by a special court in Visakhapatnam last week.
Notably, the court observed that the accused were acquitted due to the failure of the two investigating officers in conducting a fair and impartial investigation.
“It was not an ordinary fight. All these years, we — who can speak only Kondh and at times broken Telugu — struggled even to express our feelings and anxiety. It was not an ordinary ordeal. We had to move from one court to another and undergo tests and whatnot,” one of the Adivasi women told South First.
It may be recalled that on 20 August, 2007, a special party of 21 policemen went to the village of Vakapally in the G Madugula mandal of the ASR district to conduct anti-Naxalite combing operations.
That morning, 11 tribal women, who are Kondhs, a community that belongs to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), complained that they were raped by the policemen.
Of the 11 women, two died in the last few years.
“What followed was a harrowing experience. Our men abandoned us. They didn’t allow us into our homes at least for a week,” another Adivasi woman of Vakapally told South First.
She recalled that they were allowed into their homes and their husbands accepted them only after the intervention of village elders and a customary ritual to ward off evil spells.
“Village elders said it was not our fault, that it was policemen who robbed our modesty by force. Our men slowly understood our plight and started supporting us. They have stood with us in the fight with the entire system. And justice eluded us clearly due to the failure of the system. At least the court said the investigating officer should be given punishment,” a 45-year-old Adivasi told South First.
Another Adivasi woman victim recollected that on the day of the police visit, they were all busy with domestic chores as their men went out to the fields for farming when policemen forcibly entered their homes and raped them.
One of the investigating officers, M Sivananda Reddy, has been referred to an apex committee, to be constituted by Andhra Pradesh to investigate him and take appropriate action. Another officer, B Ananda Rao, has died.
“However in view of the findings of this court in the above judgment, M Sivananda Reddy is ordered to be referred to the apex committee constituted by the government of Andhra Pradesh for taking action for his failure in conducting a proper investigation,” said the XI Additional District and Sessions Judge cum Special Court under the SC & ST (PoA) Act.
“So far B Ananda Rao, another investigating officer, is concerned, though there is a finding against him in not conducting a prompt and proper investigation, no action is suggested as he is no more now,” added the court.
It also directed the state government to pay compensation to the Adivasi women.
“Since the accused are acquitted due to the failure of the investigating officers in conducting proper investigation resulting in the acquittal, the victims are entitled to compensation and accordingly the District Legal Services Authority, Visakhapatnam, is directed to decide the quantum of compensation after due inquiry and to pay it to them as damages due to their victimisation of sexual assault and other crimes since 2007,” said the court.
After a protracted battle in the high court and Supreme Court, the trial began in Visakhapatnam in 2018. The judgement was delivered on 6 April.
Following the judgement, Human Rights Forum (HRF), AP&TS Coordination Committee member VS Krishna said: “It vindicates the longstanding allegation of women’s and Adivasi rights organisations that the investigation was compromised at the very inception of the case.”
He added: “We have consistently held that the investigation was carried out from Day One to protect fellow police personnel and was therefore deliberately malicious.”
Krishna also said: “None of the procedures mandated by the criminal code was adhered to by the investigating officers. Also, the medical examination followed by the forensic process was deeply vitiated.”
He added that the landmark judgement was a major victory for the women of Vakapally.
“They stood steadfast in their demand for justice. Despite being illiterate in more ways than one, they never gave up their struggle, bravely faced humiliation, subjected themselves to strenuous cross-examination in a language that was alien to them, and patiently waited for justice all these years,” said HRF AP state general secretary Y Rajesh.