People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 07, 2012


‘Vachathi: Symbol of Struggle against Oppression’


S P Rajendran


PLACE after place, state after state, there is a ferocious onslaught on the rights of the tribal people; they are being displaced from their traditional homes, treated as slave labourers and are deprived of their basic rights guaranteed under the constitution of India. The fifth schedule of the constitution guarantees the rights of the tribal people and their land or natural resources could not be taken without the consent of the local people. Still in many places the lands are taken and handed over to private parties.


So said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who strongly condemned the oppression against the tribal people at a function organised to release Unmaiyin Porkural: Vachathi, a documentary on the struggle and success of the tribal people at Vachathi in Tamilnadu. The event was held at Chennai on September 30.


The first copy of the CD was released by Prakash Karat and received by Selvi, one of the victims of the joint raid conducted by the police and forest department personnel in 1992 at his tiny village situated in Dharmapuri district. Selvi was an eighth standard student at that time.


Reiterating that Vachathi had become a symbol of struggle against social oppression, Prakash Karat said more and more Vachathis were happening today in India. Under the neo-liberal regime, the adivasi people are being exploited by the Indian corporate houses and multinational companies as they live in mine rich areas such as Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Orissa.


Contending that such onslaughts were taking place in the name of economic development, Karat said the fight against oppression of the tribals, the fight against the loot of our country’s natural resources by the private Indian and multinational companies, and the struggle waged by the people in Vachathi were all interconnected.


He said Vachathi was an unprecedented case in the sense that many officials were held responsible and collectively punished for their crimes against the downtrodden people. “What made Vachathi unique is the continuation of the prolonged struggle and that this fight was not relaxed at any stage,” he added.


CPI(M) state secretary G Ramakrishnan said the people of Vachathi were the heroes and heroines of the documentary. He accused that both the AIADMK and the DMK governments never showed any sympathy for the people and that the DMK government even refused to set up a special court for the case.


CPI(M) Polit Bureau member K Varadharajan, Tamilnadu Tribals Association president P Shanmugam, advocate R Vaigai, party MLA Dillibabu and director of the film Bharathi Krishnakumar, state AIDWA general secretary P Suganthi, writer S Tamilselvan also spoke.




B Kolappan, correspondent of The Hindu writes about the documentary:


“A gigantic banyan tree in the backdrop of green mountains, folk tunes and tribal women dancing around a fire may be the typical rural imagery used in cinema. But when P Shanmugam, leader of the Tamilnadu Tribals Association, sits on a bamboo-stringed cot under the tree and recounts the atrocities unleashed by the police and the Forest Department against the tribals and their 20-year struggle for justice, the banyan tree turns into a mute witness to a sordid saga and the folk tunes turn into a battle cry.


Unmaiyin Porkural (Battlecry of the Truth), a documentary on Vachathi, has been released on September 30 to mark the first anniversary of the landmark judgement that convicted 215 police and Forest Department officials, portrays the struggle and triumph of the poor and helpless tribals over a powerful combination of government machinery, politicians, police and Forest Department officials.


“The film that focusses on the joint raids by the police and Forest Department over three days from June 20, 1992, also tells how this combination victimised innocent tribals and ravaged natural resources in Vachathi and elsewhere.


“Though time is deemed as a healer, in the case of Vachathi the trauma seems not to have diminished one bit. Almost everyone, the victims, leaders of the Tamilnadu Tribals Association who first brought the incident to the notice of the outside world, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and advocates who appeared on behalf of the victims, broke down at least once while narrating their experience.


“ ‘The day when the judgement was delivered, we all cried instead of celebrating the moment,’ says P Shanmugam, who was the first activist to visit Vachathi after the incident. His voice chokes as he narrates some of the incidents, particularly the rape of 18 women including 15 minor girls.


“Though all those involved in the whole episode explain their role on screen, it is the part played by the CBI, as retold by Deputy Superintendent of Police, S Jaganathan, that convinces everyone that the tribals were at the receiving end — contrary to claims that they connived with sandalwood smugglers.”


“Their dwellings and life style in no way support the argument that they were earning well,” Mr Jaganathan says. “One of the rape victims was an eighth standard girl. A pregnant woman who was lodged in Salem prison gave birth to a child right there,” Mr Jaganathan explains.


The villagers unanimously say that but for the Tamilnadu Tribals Association and the CPI(M), they could not have got justice and that the documentary became a powerful campaigning tool in the hands of the party.


“I think we have the right to tell the world about our efforts in getting justice for the helpless people,” argues Shanmugam.


Director of the film, Bharathi Krishnakumar, said: “Which work of art is free from propaganda? Even Ramayana is a propaganda material as it speaks of Rama’s ideals.” This film would breal the wall between the tribal people who have been protecting our natural resources and the people in the plains, he added.