Why is it in the news?
- The Vachathi verdict, delivered recently at the Madras High Court, is a significant victory for a tribal community in Tamil Nadu.
- This victory is remarkable because it marks the first time that a community of 655 Adivasis successfully challenged the power of the state.
More about the news
- The Vachathi community, located in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, faced state-led brutality in 1992 when police, forest, and revenue officials accused them of illegal sandalwood hoarding and smuggling.
- Over the course of three days, the villagers, including women, the elderly, and children, were subjected to violence, rape, destruction of homes, and contamination of wells, all under the leadership of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
- The state initially refused to register a case against its officials, prompting the villagers to seek a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry through the Madras High Court.
- The CBI filed its charge sheet in 1996, and the case underwent a 15-year trial in a Sessions Court in Dharmapuri.
- In 2011, the villagers achieved a historic victory at the trial court, securing convictions for all accused under various charges, including rape and atrocities under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
- However, this verdict was stayed by the Madras High Court following appeals by bureaucrats, and successive State governments thereby protecting their officials.
- The Madras High Court’s judgment, upholding the trial court’s convictions, sends a strong message to elected governments that they cannot act with impunity.
- The Vachathi case highlights the effectiveness of the SC/ST law in this rare instance, where it served its intended purpose.
- This verdict is a crucial moment in the ongoing struggle for Adivasi rights, demonstrating how an engaged civil society, dedicated lawyers, an independent judiciary, and the determination of victims seeking justice can utilize India’s democratic Constitution and judicial system to their advantage.
SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
- SC ST Act 1989 is an Act of Parliament enacted to prohibit discrimination against SC & ST communities membersand prevent atrocities against them.
- The Act is also a recognition of the depressing realitythat despite undertaking several measures, the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes continue to be subjected to various atrocities at the hands of upper-castes.
- The Act has been enacted keeping in view the express constitutional safeguards enumerated in Articles 15 (Prohibition of Discrimination), 17 (Abolition of Untouchability) and 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution,with a twin-fold objective of protecting the members of these vulnerable communities as well as to provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims of caste-based atrocities.
- In the amended SC/ST Act (2018), preliminary inquiry is not a must and no prior approval is also required for appointing authorities for senior police officers to file FIRs in cases of atrocities on SC and ST.