Vakapalli Gang Rape Case: Acquittal of 13 Cops, Survivors Compensated but Denied Justice

Vakapalli Gang Rape Case: Acquittal of 13 Cops, Survivors Compensated but Denied Justice

Andhra Pradesh— The recent court order acquitting 13 police officers in the Vakapalli gang-rape case has come as a profound shock and disappointment to the survivors and their families. After fighting an arduous legal battle for 16 years, they had hoped for a measure of justice, but instead, the accused have been acquitted for lack of proper investigation and evidence.

On April 6th, the Additional District and Sessions Judge cum Special Court under the SC & ST (PoA) Act acquitted all 13 accused policemen of gang-raping 11 tribal women at a hamlet in Vakapalli, in 2007. The court cited a lack of proper investigation by the two investigating officers and observed that the acquittal was primarily due to their misconduct. Despite acquitting the policemen, the court ordered that the rape survivors be paid compensation through the District Legal Services Authority.

The court order has come as a big shock and disappointment for the survivors and their families. The 11 tribal women belonging to a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) had complained about being sexually assaulted by the police.

They had in the past, moved petitions with the High Court and Supreme Court and sought it's intervention to begin the trial, however, all their efforts seem useless. 

From Ostracisation to Purification Baths

The shocking abduction and gang- rape  has had devastating consequences, with two survivors now deceased and those remaining continuing to face mistreatment and social exclusion. One survivor recounted how they were cruelly ostracised by their husbands and village elders, forced to stay away from their families for several days, and not allowed to interact with their children.

According to the 30-year-old son of one of the survivors, they are weary of the legal battle and have decided not to pursue the matter any further. As per the court's instructions, they will accept compensation from the state government if provided, but they will not pursue the case further beyond that point.

The wait has been long

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) leaders Y Rajesh and VS Krishna welcomed the court's decision to mandate compensation for the survivors. Krishna was among the organizations that supported the tribals' legal struggle. Krishna expressed that the verdict was a long-awaited vindication of the Indigenous and women's organizations' accusations that the investigation was compromised from the start. The gross deviation from the criminal code's mandated investigation procedures was to protect the accused officers, according to him. The medical examination followed by forensic proceedings were also deeply compromised. The tribal survivors never wavered in their pursuit of justice, not having the privilege of literacy and language to assist them. Even after being subjected to intense cross-examination and humiliation, they held steadfastly until now. Therefore, the survivors must receive rightful compensation. Krishna revealed in a statement that "the wait has been long."

The compensation amount will be decided by the District Legal Services Authority in Vizag, holding a proper inquiry into the matter. Nevertheless, the families of the survivors are disappointed that justice has been delayed yet further.

The 2007 incident 

Police personnel engaged in anti-Naxalite operations were accused of abducting and raping 11 tribal women from Vakapalli village in the Visakhapatnam district on August 20th, 2007. All the women, who were married, said they were rounded up from their homes by 21 Special Party Police personnel, who sexually assaulted them. The women were sent to King George Hospital in Visakhapatnam for medical examination.

Paderu MLA L Raja Rao of the Bahujan Samaj Party accompanied the women, who lodged a complaint with Paderu sub-collector, D S Lokesh Kumar, and demanded an inquiry by a sitting judge of the High Court into the incident. The MLA called for the immediate dismissal of all 21 police personnel involved in the rape, and compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the 11 victims.

Vakapalli Gang Rape Case: Acquittal of 13 Cops, Survivors Compensated but Denied Justice
A Gruesome Murder: 9-year-old Tribal Girl Raped, Disemboweled, Disposed in Udaipur Village

In response to the allegations, Director-General of Police, MA Basith, dismissed the accusations as a ploy by Maoists to discourage police from carrying out combing operations in the agency regions. However, case was filed against the accused police personnel under the SC, ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act, and the incident probed by an officer of the rank of additional SP. Some officers suggest that the accusations may have resulted from pressure by Maoists on the MLA. Meanwhile, the then Home Minister K Jana Reddy in Hyderabad pledged to investigate the allegations if they prove to be true.

Maoist conspiracy?

Upon the incident, the then-state government appointed an investigation officer, who was later replaced by a former police officer. The accused policemen's lawyers suggested a Maoist conspiracy that led the women to file false cases of rape against the officers to avoid anti-Naxalite combing operations and claimed that medical tests did not validate their allegations. The women, backed by tribal and SC and ST organizations, moved to the high court, which refused to support the medical evidence presented before it. The police then filed petitions to dismiss the charges against them. The tribal organizations eventually sought the Supreme Court's intervention, which directed the Special Court for SC and ST cases to conduct the investigation and expedite the hearing in September 2017.

Trial began in 2018

The survivors hired Sunkara Rajendra Prasad, a prominent senior lawyer from Vijayawada, as their special public prosecutor. Prasad stated that the police impeded the trial by ignoring court orders, failing to produce essential documents, not conducting an identification parade of the accused, and not taking the survivors' statements for several days.

The presiding judge expressed dissatisfaction with the sloppy investigation and careless presentation of evidence by both officials in his judgment. 

Shortcomings in investigation 

The court noted several shortcomings in the investigation of the rape of eleven tribal women by police officers in Vakapalli village, Visakhapatnam, in 2007. The FIR was not registered until six days after the incident, and no policeman visited the hamlet to secure the alleged crime scene or record statements. Although medical examinations were delayed by another two days, the police tried to take the women to a hospital unequipped to conduct rape examinations. No identification test of the accused was conducted for 12 years, and crucial documents were lost due to natural calamities. Finally, even the first investigation officer had failed to preserve essential evidence, and the second investigation officer submitted a report on lost documents.

The court held the first investigating officer accountable for the lack of evidence and acquittal of the accused policemen, while the second investigating officer had passed away during trial. The court directed that the first officer be referred to the Apex Committee for inquiries into accusations against both of the two investigation officers of trying to discredit the survivors' statements and complaints and derail the case. The court ordered the District Legal Service Authority in Visakhapatnam to determine the amount of compensation owed to the women and pay them immediately, as the policemen were acquitted because of inadequate investigation.

Vakapalli Gang Rape Case: Acquittal of 13 Cops, Survivors Compensated but Denied Justice
The Execution of the Most Heinous Rape-Murder of a Tribal Girl in Udaipur: An Inside Story

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless