Outrage in Tamil Nadu over Cases of Custodial Death

The sad demise of a father and son in police custody in Santhakulam, Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu, has left many shocked. Mr. P. Jayaraj, 58, and his son Mr. J. Bennix, 31, were detained by the police last Friday (June 19) for allegedly defying lockdown measures and keeping their shop open after 8 pm. Mr. Jayaraj was summoned to the station and detained. When his son, Mr. Bennix went to inquire about his father, the police detained him too.

The duo was kept at the sub-jail of Kovilpatti for two days. The sub-jail is around 100km away from their residence. Relatives allege they were beaten brutally by the police while they were retained.

Eyewitnesses, family, and friends, saw the two men when they were brought to the government hospital for a general check-up. This was in the morning on June 20th, before a magistrate approved an extension of their police custody.

“Their legs and hands were swollen, and Bennix was bleeding from the buttocks. (Jayaraj) had bad injuries in his knees. The police even asked for new lungis (sarongs) because the ones they wore were bloody,” said Mr. S. Rajaram, a lawyer, and Mr. Bennix’s friend.

A police complaint, however, alleges that Mr. Bennix and Mr. Jayaraj “violated the lockdown, and picked a fight with and assaulted the police.” It also states that they “rolled on the ground and injured themselves.”

The father-son duo died in the hospital between the evening of the 22nd and the morning of the 23rd of June. The family of the deceased is accusing the police of sexual assault and custodial murder.

Angry traders in Santhakulam closed their shops on June 24 and staged protests.  There are rising demands for an inquiry against the police officials involved. Soon after the strike, two sub-inspectors were suspended and 12 other policemen transferred.

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has demanded a judicial magistrate’s inquiry report. Post-mortems took place on Thursday and were recorded. The deaths have sparked outrage across Tamil Nadu. Film director Karthik Subbaraj, actors Jayam Ravi and Jiiva, and singer Suchitra took to twitter demanding urgent action against the police officials.

Mr. Jayaraj is survived by his wife and three daughters. Chief Minister, E. Palaniswami announced a donation of 4 million rupees to them and a government job for a family member.

Shocking data from India’s National Human Rights Commission show nearly 1,400 people died in police custody in the last decade. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report said that nearly 600 people died in police custody, between 2010 and 2015, but no police officer was ever convicted.

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