For 58-year-old Leonard Valdaris, the death of a father-son duo in Sathankulam town near Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, allegedly due to torture in police custody, has brought back memories of his own struggle to get justice for his son, who had died in the custody of the Mumbai Police in 2014.
Leonard, whose native town is Thoothukudi, lost his 25-year-old son Agnelo allegedly due to torture in police custody and has been fighting for justice since. “Before my son’s death, I would never have believed that the police could indulge in this kind of inhuman torture. Over the past few years, I have been trying to put the trauma of what my son must have gone through behind me but reading about the deaths in Tamil Nadu has triggered all the pain again,” Valdaris told The Indian Express.
J Bennix and his father P Jeyaraj – both shopkeepers – were taken into custody by the Sathankulam police and allegedly brutally tortured, leading to their deaths on June 22 and 23, respectively, for reportedly flouting lockdown norms.
In April 2014, Agnelo, along with three others, including a minor boy, were apprehended by the Wadala Government Railway Police (GRP) in a theft case. According to the chargesheet filed by the CBI before a special court, those with Agnelo had told the agency that all of them were severely assaulted with belts by the police with one being tied upside down. The men, including the minor, were also sexually abused.
Leonard, who works as a foreman with the Mumbai Port Trust, said he had cooperated with the police when they came to inquire about his son in 2014 and handed him over to them. “I was told that they will interrogate him and produce him before court. After three days, I was handed over his body,” he added. The police had claimed that Agnelo had been run over by a train while he was trying to escape from custody.
Leonard went on to move the Bombay High Court to seek justice. Not satisfied with the police probe, the court directed the CBI to investigate the case.
For Leonard, however, it was not the end of his legal fight. The CBI initially only charged the accused policemen for assault. The charges under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and Section 377 (unnatural sex) of the IPC were only added subsequently. The agency continued to maintain that there is not enough evidence to charge the eight policemen booked for murder.
Last December, the HC directed the trial court to frame charges against the policemen under sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the IPC.
“Custodial violence may be either physical, emotional or mental. It leaves its permanent impact on the victim. In the present case, the victims were tortured by none other than the protectors of the law. Custodial deaths have been on the rise in the country,” the division bench of Justice B P Dharmadhikari and Justice Sadhana Jadhav had said in regard to the Angelo case last December.
The trial court is yet to frame charges against the policemen, some of whom were suspended and some transferred.
“If civilians would have been charged for murder, they would have been arrested. I don’t know why the accused policemen are yet to be arrested,” Leonard said.
Lawyer Payoshi Roy, representing Leonard, said the CBI will have to take sanction from the state government to charge the policemen for the murder. A query to the CBI on the case did not yield a response.
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