Tamil Nadu opposition leaders raise questions over father-son custodial deaths

Published : June 26, 2020 00:00 IST

Members of the public on a road roko at Sathankulam on June 23 in protest against the custodial death of the father-son duo. Photo: Handout

Tamil Nadu’s opposition political parties and local leaders have raised a series of questions following the mysterious custodial death of two shopkeepers 10 hours apart on June 19 near the southern port-town of Thoothukudi.

The events as narrated by the family, local politicians and sources point to collusion at multiple levels that finally led to the killing of two persons in custody.

On June 19, according to the police version of events, Jayaraj (58) had not closed his woodwork and mobile phone shop by curfew time in Sathankulam village. The police demanded that he close, which was followed by an exchange of words. Jayaraj was taken to the police station. Hearing about this, his son, Bennicks (31), rushed to the police station, where he was taken into custody. A first information report (FIR) was registered against them under IPC Sections 269, 188 and 506 (ii). The duo was detained overnight for questioning.

DMK leader and Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi said that the father and son were assaulted brutally. In a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on June 26, she  said that “the police officials had inserted a baton into the anus of Mr Bennicks that had triggered uncontrolled bleeding”.

According to one family member, the assault on Bennicks began after he questioned the police over the manner in which his father was assaulted.

The next morning, they were taken to a hospital, where a doctor issued the duo fitness certificates. Local politicians said these were obtained under duress. Many agitated relatives of the duo wanted to know how a doctor could give such certificates when both were bleeding from the rectum.

The opposition leaders also asked why the magistrate who remanded the duo did not notice the state in which they were brought. Kanimozhi said that when the police officials took the duo to the magistrate’s residence for being remanded, they were placed about “50 metres away from the magistrate and were surrounded by policemen”.

The third question relates to why the duo was taken to Kovilpatti, over 80 kilometres away, when there was a sub-jail nearby. It is alleged that the police were aware of the grave injuries of the two and were trying to cover up the issue by taking them to a distant jail.

The other important question is if the injuries were recorded at the Kovilpatti sub-jail and if so, what action the jailors at the sub-jail took. It is clear that they did not send the duo for treatment even though both were bleeding.

“As such there is overwhelming direct and corroborative evidence that the police officials, the magistrate who ordered the remand, the medical officials who should have checked the health and physical fitness [of the duo] collectively failed in discharging their duties,” she said in the complaint.

People from the village gathered in large numbers, questioning the police action, from June 20. Initially, the family refused to accept the bodies until murder charges were filed against the police officials responsible for the deaths. They later relented, and the bodies were buried on June 25.

The State government has announced the suspension of two police officials.

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