Why The Thoothukkudi Custodial Deaths Concern Each one of us.
TRIGGER WARNING – The content contains references to sexual and physical violence. Reader discretion is advised.
George Floyd’s death sparked a lot of controversy and people all over the world stood in unison against it. My Whatsapp status, Facebook and Instagram stories where all filled with the news and the details of it for days! How many of you reading this heard of the custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) and dug deep into it? The Thoothukkudi custodial deaths are a matter of concern to each one of us and it is imperative that we know all about it and talk about it.
ORDER OF EVENTS
- On 19th Jun, Jayaraj (59)was taken into custody by Sathankulam Police.
- His son Bennicks (31) went to the Police Station looking for him, saw that the Police were verbally and physically abusing his father and stepped in to stop them.
- Infuriated, the Police took him into custody and started beating him up as well.
- The duo were beaten up profusely. The police pulled out Bennicks chest hair with their bare hands, stripped both of them and inserted baton into their anus leading to rectal bleeding.
- On 20th Jun, they were taken for their medical check-up and the doctor’s report said that they were healthy.
- At the judicial magistrate, they didn’t mention the torture because of repeated threats from the police. The duo were sent on remand to the Kovilpatti sub-jail which was around 100Kms away from Sathankulam.
- On Jun 22nd night, Bennicks complained of chest pain and was taken to the hospital where he died.
- On Jun 23rd early morning, Jayaraj too breathed his last.
What was their Crime? Jayaraj and Bennicks had kept their shops open for 15 minutes past the permitted lock-down hours. When the Patrol team asked everyone to close down, Jayaraj allegedly made some remarks against them
The FIR report states that when the police warned the duo about the lock-down hours, they verbally abused the police, threatened to hit them, sat on the ground and rolled around which is how they were injured even before they were brought into the Police custody. The reason for their deaths were stated as heart failure and high fever.
Following their deaths, protests arose around Thoothukkudi and shops remained closed for a day. Gradually the case rose in popularity and amidst rising demands for justice, the Madras High court intervened and ordered the Superindendent of Police to submit reports.
Based on the CCTV footage near their shops and the multiple witness accounts, it was apparent that the facts of the case had been twisted. To add to this, the post-mortem report and the witness account of the Head constable, Revathy changed everything. The magistrate who conducted the enquiry was intimidated by the Sathankulam Police and everything in their capacity was done to destroy the evidence and hinder his progress with the enquiry.
FLAWS IN THE SYSTEM
- When the duo were brought before the Sathankulam Judicial magistrate, he was supposed to conduct a physical fitness examination. How did he deem them fit and approve the remand?
- The Doctor who examined them did not raise an issue either. If they were bleeding profusely, he clearly ignored it.
- They were taken to Kovilpatti sub-jail which was 100 Kms away from Sathankulam while they had a district jail in Perurani.
- The Police station’s CCTV footage was programmed to delete the recordings every 24 hours. Perhaps this was done in order to get rid of the evidence.
- The case was investigated because it gained so much attention. This means that there is barely any control over custodial deaths.
WHY THIS AFFECTS US?
Firstly, this could happen to any of us, our friends or family. While George Floyd’s death had a racist twist to it, a lack of it doesn’t make this case any less important. More people should know about it, discuss it widely and understand their rights.
Secondly, the issue gained much popularity only because there were witnesses near the shop, friends and relatives gathered in the Police station, and a lot of hue and cry was raised over it by the people. The Sathankulam Police have resorted to such violence earlier too for it to come so naturally to them when there was no crime committed. People don’t turn into barbarians overnight.
There must have been similar cases that were been buried because there were no witnesses which means one fine day, we could be arrested for a crime we didn’t commit, be tortured and killed due to an illness we didn’t have.
Four Police Officials have been arrested and charged for the murder of Jayaraj and Bennicks. The Government has announced compensation of Rs. 20 lakhs for the family. Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi declared a compensation of Rs. 25 lakhs for the family.
Every problem starts at an individual level. The people involved in the Thoothukkudy custodial death case, happened to be the Police. But you and I, since childhood, have been told not to question or retort to our elders or people who are superior to us in any manner. As we grew up, we passed on this lesson because we become incapable of handling even a little bit of retort or insubordination. “How dare you question the Police!?” is the default mentality of the cops. Some of them forget that they are public servants and go on to become a superior, race amongst humans so much so that even if they break the rules, we fear to question them. But how dare Bennicks get in the way of the Police when they beat up his father?
While presently nothing can be done about power in the wrong hands, we as citizens can know our rights and be prepared for a situation like this. This article on thefederal.com explains the rights of arrestees and how the proceedings should have actually been in Jayaraj’s and Bennick’s case.
Let me know your thoughts on the issue and what you think could be done at individual and legal level to make things better.
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