Trial in the Vakapalli gang rape case is set to commence from August 23 at Vishakapatnam SC/ST Special Court. Eleven years ago, on August 20, 2007, 11 Adivasi women from the Kondh tribe in Vakapalli in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam district were allegedly gang-raped by personnel of the state’s elite anti-Naxal force, the Greyhounds, at gun point.
Two of the survivors have subsequently died, one from a snake bite and the other due to malaria , but the remaining nine women have been fighting the prolonged legal battle, in spite of facing continuous intimidation from several quarters including police, waiting to get justice delivered.
According to the victims, on the day of horrific incidence, 21 Greyhounds personnel entered the Vakapalli hamlet in the early hours of morning, and forcefully barged into their houses on the pretext of a combing operation in search for Naxals, and gangraped 11 Adivasi women for two hours after all the men from the village had purportedly left for agricultural work. Immediately after the incident, the victims registered a complaint with the help of the village head and Adivasi Rights organisations.
Since then, the victims have moved from pillar to post, awaiting justice. An initial Crime Investigation Department (CID) probe ruled in favor of the accused on the pretext that no medical examination of the victims were conducted, based on which the state high court dismissed the first plea of the victims there.
Later, in April 2008, the victims filed a protest petition before the court of the judicial first class magistrate in Paderu Mandal, requesting the court to reject the CID report and begin the trial afresh. However, within one week of the court recognizing their plea, the accused approached the high court asking to stay the proceedings. As a result, the high court stayed the matter and after four years of stay order, in April 2012, the court ruled that only 13 of the 21 accused personnel could be tried in connection with the case. Immediately after the ruling came, the 13 accused approached the Supreme Court for another stay order which was granted for four more years.
In September last year, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed by the accused while expressing shock and dismay over the case being dragged for ten years. The apex court ordered to expedite trial in this case by a special court. Following this order, the case was handed over to the special court in Visakhapatnam that handles cases under the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The victims had to go throughanother legal battle in the state high court seeking the appointment of a public prosecutor of their choice.
In January this year, the high court directed the appointment of Palla Trinadha Rao as the public prosecutor as per the choice of the victims. However, since Andhra police arrested Trinadha Rao in relation to another case, Sunkara Rajendra Prasad, a Vijayawada-based lawyer, was appointed in his place after consultation with the victims.
Speaking to Newsclick, Human Rights Forum (HRF) general secretary V. S. Krishna said that their organization is hoping that the justice would be finally be served. “These Adivasi women did not allow themselves to be intimidated despite consistent attempts by the police and the government side who wanted them to retract from the case,” said Krishna.