(This article was first published on 2 July 2020 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives. The CBI, on 26 October, in its report to the Madras High Court, said that the DNA samples collected from the walls of the Sathankulam lockup, toilet, room of SHO and from the lathis were a match to the samples of the father-son duo Jeyaraj and Beniks, proving the deceased ‘were subjected to brutal torture by the accused police officials.’)
A father and son. When they left home on 19 June to open shop, little did they know that it would be their last day seeing their family. By night, they were lying down in the Sathankulam police station bloodied and moaning in pain. The alleged brutal custodial death of Jeyaraj and Beniks sparked massive outrage with many demanding justice and condemning police brutality.
Injuries found on the bodies of the deceased, as mentioned in the postmortem report and the Magistrate's report citing accounts of several eyewitnesses can serve as prima facie evidence to charge the Sathankulam police with counts of murder, said the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on 30 June.
Finally, after 11 days of uproar, inspector Sridhar, sub-inspector Balakrishnan and Raghuganesh and constable Murugan were arrested by CB-CID under IPC 302 (murder).
Constable Muthuraj has been held by the police but his name has not been added to the first information report (FIR) yet.
However, within 24 hours since the Kovilpatti Magistrate told the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, that Thoothukudi Assistant Superintendent of Police D Kumar and Deputy Superintendent of Police C Prathaban had threatened him during the inquiry, they were given new postings.
This incident took place in Sathankulam in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu and the district has been quite infamous for police brutality.
The Anti Sterlite Fight
I recall visiting 17-year-old Snowlin’s family back in May 2018, when an unconsolable mother said she couldn’t sleep or eat as the sight of her daughter dropping dead to the ground was still fresh in her mind.
“Stand up for us. Stand up against Sterlite,” were some of her last words and then just silence, she had told.
“If we intended to make a ruckus, would we have taken little children for the protest?,” her mother had asked.
On 22 May 2018, police had opened fire on a crowd of men, women and children, who were protesting against the Vedanta-owned copper smelter plant, accusing the factory of polluting their groundwater and causing cancer.
Autopsy reports had revealed that twelve of the 13 protesters were hit by bullets in the head or chest, and half of those were shot from behind. Two others died after bullets pierced the sides of their heads.
In the case of the youngest victim, Snowlin, a bullet had entered the back of her head and exited through her mouth, the autopsy report stated.
Police rules in India allow the use of live ammunition to counter civil unrest, but the response should not be -- shoot to kill.
Again, no police officers were charged in connection with the killings.
The Long Wait for CBI Report
The CBI was given the task of investigating the shootings and on 20 September 2019, the team submitted its status report before the Madras High Court bench.
When the bench sought to know the developments of the investigation, the CBI said that the probe was going on without any hitch.
Various political parties, including the DMK, had expressed dissatisfaction over the ''slow progress'' in the investigation.
Similarly, in the case of Jeyaraj and Beniks, following the state government order, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has taken over the investigation.
Several activists have slammed the government for this move stating that considering the number of witnesses and evidence there is, this could be dealt with quicker and put to trial and a CBI investigation would just drag it all out.
However, many other analysts believe this would serve to be fair method.
“CBI investigation is the right way to go, as the accused are members of the state police. It is better that an external agency does the probe. Otherwise, you will have a colleague doing the investigation. Even if they do a proper investigation, it will be suspect,” political analyst Sumanth Raman told The Quint.
However, the prolonged delay is not acceptable, many noted.
"“Clearly, it should take at most a year to come to a conclusion about who gave the orders to fire, what was the cause for provocation, and was it justified…because you are dealing with an established chain of command. It is disappointing that it is dragging on.”" - Sumanth Raman, Political Analyst
Thoothukudi Not an Isolated Case
The custodial deaths of the father and son duo has created a nationwide uproar, just like the anti-Sterlite protests. But this police excess is not isolated to Thoothukudi alone.
DMK MP Kanimozhi had recently slammed the state government stating that according to the National Crime Records Bureau, Tamil Nadu stands at the second position when it comes to lockup deaths. “Not even a single charge-sheet has been filed and no one has been punished. This situation must change,” she said.
“Very often the police excess and custodial deaths happen in Tier-2, Tier-3 cities. In metro cities, it will be picked up by the media and there is a lot of uproar. And this is serving as a restraining influence. The SP and the Collector are like the king of the district and that level of impunity trickles down to the constable also,” said Sumanth Raman.
Many experts suggested that in order to avoid such brutality, it is imperative that the Prevention of Torture Bill be passed.
The Bill was introduced to ratify the UN Convention against Torture of 1975 and seeks to provide for punishment for torture committed by government officials. However, experts have pointed out that the delay has been caused by the state governments who do not want “their police force to be accountable,“ said Raman.
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