Vakapalli rape case: Adivasi women await justice against anti-Naxal force accused of rape

11 women belonging to the Kondh tribe were allegedly raped by the personnel of the state’s elite anti-naxal force, the Greyhound.
Vakapalli rape case: Adivasi women await justice against anti-Naxal force accused of rape
Vakapalli rape case: Adivasi women await justice against anti-Naxal force accused of rape
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Ten years after 11 women belonging to the Kondh tribe, regarded as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), from Vakapalli village in Visakhapatnam district were allegedly raped by the personnel of the state’s elite anti-naxal force, the Greyhounds, the women still await justice. 

The battle for justice for these women have been a long and arduous one with many things working against them at every turn. They had to fight social stigma while the police personnel challenged the rape allegations. 

On August 20, 2007, Greyhounds personnel entered Vakapalli in G Madugula mandal in Visakhapatnam district. The Greyhounds purportedly entered the village to conduct routine combing operations as the area is known to have Naxalite presence. 

It was at a time when almost all the men of the village had gone away to work in the fields leaving the women and children by themselves. 

“They raped us wherever they could find us. In the houses and in the turmeric fields. None of us could even resist because they put a gun to our faces,” said one of the women. 

With the help of Lake Raja Rao, then BSP MLA from Paderu, a complaint was drafted and registered at the Paderu police station u/s 376(ii)(g) IPC and Sec. 3(ii)(v) of SC & ST (POA) Act. No proper investigation was done until two months, which warranted the AP High Court to put the CB CID in charge of the investigation. 

What is the case?

In a bizarre turn of events, the CB CID in its final report declared that no such incident of rape had occurred. They have, purportedly, based this on many contradictions in the statements given by the victims, not finding any incriminating evidence, lack of evidence of sexual intercourse and lack of external injuries excepting on two of the complainants. 

“The CB CID IO went about investigating the victims instead of the perpetrators. He was behaving like the judge, exceeding his brief. The scuttling of the investigation began with the delay in the medical examination. In a rape case, this aspect is extremely crucial. In fact, the investigation itself was begun on the presumption that the women were lying. And that, is the most tragic part of the whole story,” said High Court lawyer, Vasudha Nagraj, who has been following the case closely. 

The High Court, strangely enough, accepted the report prima facie and closed the case because it could not conclusively determine the veracity of the occurrence of the crime. 

Responding to the AP High Court order Late K Balagopal, the eminent human rights lawyer, who later argued the case, said, “If the High Court had said that it was disposing of the case because it was of the opinion that no crime has taken place, that would amount to a judgement, though an unjust one. But the High Court did not say that the crime has not occurred. Nor did it say it had taken place. It said that it was closing the case because it was unable to understand it. And for anyone who understands the role of courts, this is cause for surprise, sadness and disquiet.”

 Having been left with no other option, the women filed a private protest petition against the CB CID report in the court of the Judicial First Class Magistrate (JFCM), Paderu. Rejecting the report, the JFCM took cognisance of the case, observing that rape can be perpetrated without leaving physical injuries and semen stains, that identification can be made in the trial and that even if it is not rape it can still be an attempt to rape. 

Within a week of the cognisance taken by the Magistrate, the accused policemen petitioned the High Court for quashing of proceedings. They obtained a stay in 2008. After four years, the quash came up for final hearing in April 2012. 

Much to the relief of the complainants, the single judge took a strict view of the enormity of the crime and ordered that the trial should commence against 13 policemen and allowed the quash only against 8 policemen on the ground that they were part of a contour party and were outside the village.  

On 31st August 2012, the 13 policemen moved the Supreme Court for a direction to quash the criminal case. The bench of justices stayed the matter. The Supreme Court will now have to decide the matter on whether the trial should commence against the police personnel or not. It is yet to come up for hearing. Well-known advocate Vrinda Grover is the lawyer on behalf of the women of Vakapalli.

It is important to emphasise at this point that the judicial battle being waged is not to investigate the crime but to determine the credibility of the complainants in the first place.

The backlash

Meanwhile, the police have allegedly been harassing the residents of the village related or associated with the women in an attempt to discredit them. 

Acchibabu, a nephew of one of the women and a Vakapalli resident, was picked up from the weekly shandy in G Madugula, two months ago. “Almost every shopkeeper in G Madugula town is an unwilling part of this web of police ‘nigah’. We cannot go to the banks for money, cannot buy ration at the shops, cannot visit our children in school, cannot get treatment at the hospital,” he says. 

On August 15 this year, Pangi Bingu Raju was picked up by the G Madugula police while on his way to visit his daughter, a student resident at the tribal welfare hostel in Bandha Veedhi. In fact, he was excited to see her perform on a day which is designated for celebrating freedom. But he was also scared for he understands that freedom has a context for him and his fellow villagers of Vakapalli.  

“My brother-in-law, Korra Chinnabbai, and I were stopped on our way. We were taken to the police station. As usual, we were not told why. Later at the station, we were asked to get four to five people from our village for (fake) surrender. When we refused to oblige, I was sent back home late in the night with a warning to pass on the message. Chinnabbai is still in their custody,” he said. 

Pangi Venkatarao, who was severely beaten and tortured in illegal police custody for 40 days, was only let off when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) intervened on April 22nd. When contacted the sub-inspector of G Madugula police station, Srinivas, offered a non-denial denial saying: “We never arrested anyone. This was what we told the NHRC too.” 

The ordeal

“This repression is part of the sinister policy of the police to discredit us as Maoist sympathisers,” said one of the complainants. “All this because we are poor tribal women. If their (police) daughters and wives were raped, would they try to determine if they are fabricating the rape or will they investigate the matter promptly?” she demanded. 

The women have suffered immensely, ever since. As most of them were married, the husbands refused to take them back. “I was not even allowed to breast feed my baby,” cried one of the complainants. 

“When she was taken to Hyderabad, I was so angry that I wanted to hack her to death. I did not care about justice. I felt that the honour of our women was lost, which is very important to us,” K Nagendra, the husband of one of the women said. “But the Musab and other elders sat me down and explained. Now, we are firmly behind our women. They have suffered enough,” he added. 

“Earlier we used to be scared of people in boots, uniforms and caps. Whenever they came to our village for chicken and rice, we fed them despite going hungry to bed. That is still fine by us. But how can we allow them to rape us too?” said the principal complainant poignantly, on her way to work carrying her little baby.  

She was quick to warn, “We don't care about the repression and harassment. The police dogs cannot grind us down anymore. We do not want any compensation either. All we want is justice. And we will continue our fight for it.” 

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