Tamil Nadu: Father, son die in police custody, outrage follows
In Tamil Nadu, the punishment for violating the coronavirus-induced lockdown is, shockingly, death, like the heart-wrenching story of one P Jayaraj and his son J Bennix has shown. Police brutality killed the Tuticorin traders, the deaths sparking outrage across the country. Four cops were suspended and one inspector transferred. But people don't see it as justice. Know what the case is all about here.
Father was picked for defying curfew, son held later
The ordeal started on June 19, when Jayaraj kept his mobile shop open in Sathankulam even after 7 pm, the designated curfew time. After an altercation with police, the 62-year-old was taken to the police station. His 31-year-old son was informed about this development and he rushed to Sathankulam police station. He was held too. The family was given little information about what's happening.
Bennix was attacked after he registered protest against father's injuries
Eyewitnesses claimed when Bennix protested against his father's injuries, he was attacked. The police, meanwhile, narrated a different tale. According to them, when Jayaraj was asked by cops after 9 pm why the shop was still open, the father-son duo hurled abuses. "Jayaraj and Bennix sat on the ground and rolled on the ground. In this, they suffered internal injuries," the FIR read.
Violence peaked in night, they were allegedly sexually abused
The FIR went as far as claiming that the father-son duo claimed they would beat cops to death. But those standing outside the station heard cops asking the duo "how dare they raise voice against police". When sub-inspector Raghu Ganesh entered the station after 11 pm, the violence allegedly peaked. Other cops joined him in thrashing the duo. They were allegedly sexually abused too.
Family and friends alleged the duo bled from behind
On the morning of June 20, Saturday, they were brought to Sathankulam Government Hospital. The cops had asked the worried family to arrange a vehicle for them and bring fresh clothes too. Bennix's friend Rajaram told New Indian Express that the duo was bleeding profusely. They had to change six lungis. Bennix was bleeding from the rectum and his father too bled from behind.
Jayaraj was unable to walk, his clothes drenched in blood
S Joseph, who married Jayaraj's sister, told IE, his wife was allowed to meet them after she pleaded with the cops. "Jayaraj was unable to talk, pointing to his clothes, which were seeped with blood, especially below his waist. Bennix's back was drenched in blood," he said. The father managed to reveal they had been beaten 100-200 times, all through the night, Joseph added.
Bennix changed his clothes many times
Joseph said police allowed Bennix to change his trousers for a lungi. But the garment was also soaked in blood. "They asked us to bring another lungi, but that too was drenched before they even took them inside the hospital," he said. The family dismissed the duo's medical examination as an eyewash. Later, they were taken to a magistrate after 11 am.
They were kept at hospital for hours to reduce bleeding
A senior cop, privy to the initial probe, told IE the duo remained in the hospital for two hours, to stabilize them and reduce bleeding. "They were given some medicine. They changed half-a-dozen times as their clothes kept getting soaked with blood, especially Bennix's," he said. Moreover, inside the court too, cops surrounded them. Subsequently, they were remanded to Kovilpatti Sub Jail.
Bennix succumbed to the torture first, his father hours later
On June 21, Sunday, the family got no information about them. When they sought answers, prison authorities used COVID-19 as an excuse. Later in the evening, Bennix's wife got a call saying his blood pressure was critically low. On Monday, he passed away, his father died hours after him. An officer said they were tortured, stripped, and batons were inserted inside their rectums.
Police's version of the story isn't rock solid
Various inconsistencies in the police's version have also come to light in this brutal case. For example, the timing of FIR was said to be 9:15 pm, but it was reportedly signed by 10 pm. Questions were asked over the remand order too. Notably, Thoothukudi SP Arun Balagopalan sought to defend the cops claiming that the deaths happened in "judicial and not police custody".
Madras High Court stepped in, ordered a probe, sought report
Following outrage, Madras High Court took suo motu cognizance. A bench of Justices PM Prakash and B Pugalendhi ordered a probe and asked police to file a status report. On Wednesday, Tamil Nadu Vaingar Sangangalin Peravati, the traders' association, shut all shops across the state to protest against the police brutality. The broken family now wants cops to be charged with murder.
Charge cops with murder, demanded bereaved family
"My brother and father were brutalized and their death has to be filed as dual murders and severe action should be taken against the policemen and we are hoping that this will happen," Jayaraj's daughter Persis told India Today.
Politicians weighed in; Stalin demanded punishment, Rahul called it tragedy
Meanwhile, Chief Minister E Palaniswami condoled the deaths, announcing a total of Rs. 20 lakh as ex-gratia and a job. MK Stalin, the leader of opposition in the state assembly, demanded strict punishment, while DMK's MP Kanimozhi wrote to NHRC. Separately, Congress' Rahul Gandhi called police brutality a terrible crime, tweeting on Friday that it's a tragedy that protectors became oppressors.
Rahul hopes the government will provide justice
Police brutality is a terrible crime. It’s a tragedy when our protectors turn into oppressors. I offer my condolences to the family of the victims and appeal to the government to ensure #JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix https://t.co/sVlqR92L3p— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) June 26, 2020