The magistrate appointed by the Madras High Court to probe the alleged custodial deaths of a father and son at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu has written to the court saying officers of the police station concerned had destroyed evidence, did not cooperate in the investigation, and had tried to intimidate the judicial team.
Kovilpatti Judicial Magistrate Bharathidasan has told the court that the hostility had eventually forced them to stop the inquiry mid-way on Sunday night and leave the Sathankulam Police Station, where P Jeyaraj and son J Bennix were allegedly tortured, leading to their deaths on June 22. Read here in Tamil
Following the complaint, the High Court Monday directed the district collector to depute revenue officers to take control of the Sathankulam station. The court also initiated criminal contempt action against ASP D Kumar, DSP Prathapan and Constable Maharajan, named by Bharathidasan in his complaint. On Monday evening, the Tamil Nadu government passed an order transferring probe into the deaths of Jeyaraj and Bennix to the CBI.
The magistrate’s note to the High Court confirms the torture allegations, saying witnesses had testified that “both father and son were beaten by lathis throughout the night, till early hours…”. The blood-stained lathis and the tables on which the men were made to lie down were wiped later. He adds, “When (we) asked officers to produce the lathis, they did not oblige… After we insisted, the lathis were submitted.”
A source at the High Court, quoting Bharathidasan’s complaint, told The Indian Express that the judicial team reached the Sathankulam station around 12.45 pm Sunday. In his complaint, the magistrate says that ASP Kumar and DSP Prathapan, the two senior officers present, made no effort to acknowledge their presence. Instead, the complaint says, Kumar “flexed his muscles and biceps”.
When the judicial team called for the daily register and other documents for inspection, the magistrate says, the two officers made their displeasure evident by abusing their subordinates and adopting a “threatening” tone. According to the source, Bharathidasan says that the documents were eventually brought out one by one, in a bid to delay the inspection.
The judicial team included experts who could download and retrieve CCTV footage, crucial evidence in the case. However, Bharathidasan writes, the system was “configured in such a way that the data gets erased every day… Incidents recorded on June 19 (the night Jeyaraj and Bennix spent in custody at the Sathankulam station) were seen to be in (an) erased state.”
The team inserted a hard disk it had brought along to check whether the system was working, the magistrate says, and it was.
Bharathidasan writes that after they had taken photos and videos of the station premises, they first called Constable Maharajan for interrogation. He says the constable was “not forthcoming” and, at first, “appeared scared”. But later, at one point, Maharajan apparently came close to the magistrate and muttered in Tamil, “Unnaal onnum pudungamudiyaadu (you cannot do anything here).”
With Maharajan alleged to be among the officers who had tortured Jeyaraj and Bennix, the magistrate says they asked him for his lathi. “First he said his lathi was (at) his native place, and then said it was (at) his police quarters. He walked off, refusing to cooperate, he responded rudely to our request. Finally he said he has no lathi,” the complaint says, adding that he eventually gave his staff after much persuasion.
According to the magistrate, even as Maharajan’s questioning was on, another policeman “ran away” when asked for his lathi.
The team also talked to Head Constable Revathi, who was present at the station on June 19 night. According to the source, the magistrate says they spent a long time with Revathi and tried to make her feel at ease, but she was “very worried and anxious”, fearing the reaction of her seniors. Bharathidasan writes that she only agreed to sign her witness statement after they assured her protection.
Meanwhile, outside, policemen gathered under a tree and openly abused the judicial team, as others recorded all that was happening on their cellphones. The magistrate’s complaint says their intention clearly was intimidation of witneses.
The team decided to leave the station when they felt “the situation was worsening”, the complaint says.
Tamil Nadu DGP J K Tripathy did not reply to queries sent to him. Asked about the intimidation allegations, Thoothukudi district SP Arun Balagopal said, “I will comment later.”
Thoothukudi Collector Sandeep Nanduri said judicial magistrates do not report to him. “If there is a complaint against police officers, the court will give directions for appropriate action. I heard that the Madras HC issued an order in this regard. I am yet to see the order copy,” he said.
The family of Jeyaraj (62) and Bennix (32) had earlier expressed their faith in the judiciary, likening it to god, to get them justice.
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