Tamil Nadu custodial deaths: Cops allegedly harassed judicial team
A magistrate appointed by the Madras High Court to probe the deaths of a father-son duo in police custody in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin was allegedly harassed by cops, IE reported on Tuesday. Kovilpatti Judicial Magistrate Bharathidasan wrote to Madras HC that the hostility led him to stop the probe mid-way on Sunday. He claimed the cops tried to intimidate the team. Here's what happened.
The killings of 62-year-old P Jayaraj and his 31-year-old son J Bennix has led to nationwide anger, and the call for police reforms has gotten louder. On June 19, the father was picked up and taken to Sathankulam Police station for keeping his shop open after the designated curfew time. Consequently, Bennix went to check on his father but was held.
In the station, they were beaten with lathis and allegedly sodomized. The next morning, they were taken to Sathankulam Government Hospital. There, Jayaraj and Bennix bled profusely and changed clothes at least thrice, the family alleged. Despite the grave wounds, they were remanded to judicial custody at Kovilpatti Sub Jail. On June 22, Bennix died, and hours later his father too breathed his last.
As the details of the deaths led to protests in Tamil Nadu, HC took suo motu cognizance and appointed a judicial team for an impartial probe. Magistrate Bharathidasan, in his note to HC, confirmed the torture allegations, citing witnesses. He told the blood-stained lathis and the table, where Jayaraj and Bennix were made to lie down, were wiped, in an attempt to erase the evidence.
When Bharathidasan sought the lathis, the cops initially showed reluctance but later obliged. According to the IE report, the magistrate reached the police station around 12:45 pm, but two cops — ASP D Kumar and DSP Prathapan — didn't even acknowledge him. Kumar "flexed his muscles" instead. When he asked for the daily register, the two officers expressed their displeasure through their tones.
Bharathidasan reported that the team first called Constable Maharajan for interrogation. He seemed scared in the beginning but subsequently came close to the magistrate and muttered, "You cannot do anything here". The constable changed his statements too. After saying his lathi was at his native place, he claimed it was at his police quarters. "Finally he said he has no lathi," Bharathidasan's note read.
Just as Maharajan's interrogation was underway, another constable "ran away" when asked about his lathi. Bharathidasan said head constable Revathi, who was present at the station on June 19, agreed to give a statement only after she was assured of protection. In fact, while the judicial team was inside the station, policemen, who were outside, hurled abuses at them.
Notably, the judicial team included experts who could download the CCTV footage, deemed as crucial evidence. However, the team learned that the system was configured in a way that data is deleted every day. Faced with rude behavior, the team returned, leaving the probe unfinished. After Bharathidasan's report, HC initiated criminal contempt action against ASP Kumar, DSP Prathapan, and Constable Maharajan.
HC has also directed the district collector to give revenue officers the responsibility of Sathankulam station. The trio was also summoned by Madras High Court. Not only this, but the court also directed the state government to transfer the cops for a fair probe. Earlier, the bereaved family had expressed faith in the judiciary, putting it on an equal pedestal as God.