To many, the custodial deaths of Jeyaraj, 62, and his son Bennicks, 32, in Tamil Nadu’s Sathankulam town could be reminiscent of what Tamil writer M Chandrakumar had to face inside a 10×10 room at Guntur police station in Andhra Pradesh in 1983.
It was just that Chandrakumar aka Auto Chandran was fortunate enough to have come out alive and tell his story of police brutality.
Chandrakumar, now 58, was picked up while he was working in a hotel on suspicion of being a part of a robbers’ gang. He was subjected to brutal torture in custody for 13 days and was released after five and a half months.
Chandrakumar later wrote about the custodial torture and his time in jail in a book titled ‘Lockup’, which was published in 2006. The book was later adapted into a movie called ‘Visaranai’ (Interrogation) by filmmaker Vetrimaran. It became India’s official entry for Best Foreign Language film at the 89th Academy Awards.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Chandrakumar said he was shaken when he heard about the Sathankulam case in which the father-son duo was thrashed for hours on June 19 evening. When the two were taken to the Sathankulam government hospital the next morning, Jeyaraj’s veshti and Bennix’s pants were fully soaked in blood and they had to keep changing lungis at the hospital due to severe bleeding.
Following their deaths, the Madras High Court has initiated criminal proceedings against three Thoothukudi police officers. More than 20 police officers have been transferred in connection with the incident. The case has now been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
“When I came to know about the Sathankulam incident, I was reminded of the pain I endured during those 13 days in the Guntur police station. In a 10×10 room, there were 25 people locked up in a semi-naked condition. Police preferred to keep me alive… When I went on a hunger strike inside the station, they didn’t beat me up for two days. They needed a favour from me; they wanted me to confess.
“In the Sathankulam case, the police didn’t need any of these from those two persons. They knew that they had picked up the persons against the law and hence they didn’t want them to go alive out of the station,” he said.
Chandrakumar also said public outrage wasn’t enough to bring justice in any criminal case.
“We should understand that public outrage alone cannot guarantee that the accused officers will be convicted — evidence, eyewitnesses are crucial in any case. Even if the entire world says a person is criminal or even if someone confesses he has committed a crime, it has to be proven in the court of law. Today, the Sathankulam case is being discussed everywhere and everyone is demanding strict action against the officers. Inside the court premises, however, only the eyewitnesses can testify, not the general public. The witnesses have to be strong to make sure the officers are punished. However, this case is not like other cases where the police can claim they killed someone in self-defence. The incident has happened inside the police station.”
Chandrakumar also underlined that the Sathankulam incident was just the tip of the iceberg and that many incidents of custodial torture remain unknown.
”There are many cases (of custodial torture) that do not get known outside even the town, forget about getting reported in the media. Generally, the police try to catch hold of people who have a criminal history. They torture them and make them accept any case the police want to file against them. But in Sathankulam case, the deceased men had no such history. They were normal people running a mobile shop,” he said.
The writer alleged that the FIR report contradicts what happened inside the station. The report said Jeyaraj and Bennicks rolled on the floor and suffered internal injuries.
“The report says something and the CCTV footage show something else. Leave alone the CCTV, there has been bloodstains on the desk in the police station, how did that happen? The police had tied their legs and hands, put them on table, and thrashed them for hours. If you look at various reports, it has been stated that Bennicks suffered several injuries on the head. The sub-jail registrar had noted visible injuries on both the father and the son. This act of brutality by the Sathankulam police is similar to running over a random person on the street knowingly. This is a barbaric act,” he said.
Commenting on the Tamil Nadu Police department’s decision to conduct a behavioural course for officers under mental stress, Chandrakumat said it’s only meant to save the department’s image.
“When police officers in interior towns of Madurai, Thoothukudi can abuse the judicial magistrate, do you think they will be kind to the general public? The disciplinary course is just a face-saving exercise. A police officer has been trained to handle all kinds of situations, they are public servants. Their job is to address public issues 24×7 and not vent out their frustration on innocent people. The need of the hour is a complete overhaul of the system,” he said.
Chandrakumar, who runs an autorickshaw for a living, has written a couple of other books and has been involved in various welfare activities.
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