Updated: June 27, 2020 10:47:51 am
THE family members of the father and son who died of alleged custodial torture in Sathankulam town near Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu describe two days of trying desperately to meet them, and finding them in blood-soaked clothes.
Following outrage and protests over the deaths of P Jeyaraj, 62, and his son J Bennix, 32, four police officers have been placed under suspension and an inspector transferred. The Madras High Court has sought a report from police.
On Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu Traders’ Association downed shutters across the state, seeking to highlight police highhandedness. The police action against Jeyaraj, belonging to the powerful Nadar trader community, sprang from an argument he had with police on June 19 evening over keeping his mobile phone shop open in Sathankulam beyond the deadline of 7 pm, set as a part of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
After a patrol team took Jeyaraj to a local police station, Bennix reached there with a friend and was also taken into custody. Two days later, both were dead. A preliminary police probe found severe injuries in their private parts.
Vinoth Kumar, who is married to Bennix’s elder sister, said that on his way to the police station, the 32-year-old had called her up. “As she did not pick up, he called up another sister and told her he was going to check on his father,” Kumar said.
When no word came from Bennix, S Joseph, who is married to Jeyaraj’s sister, said more relatives rushed to the station. “However, the station was locked.” He said they waited till 1.30 am outside, before deciding to leave and come back the next morning.
Early June 20, the family went to the police station, and were told to arrange a vehicle for police to take Jeyaraj and Bennix to the Sathankulam Government Hospital and a fresh pair of clothes for them. Joseph said after they had arranged the vehicle, he and his wife followed it at a distance and saw Jeyaraj and Bennix from a distance, at the hospital entrance. He said they seemed badly injured, with their clothes blood-soaked.
“They were surrounded by police men. My wife pleaded that she was Jeyaraj’s sister and was allowed to go near them. Jeyaraj was unable to talk, pointing to his clothes, which were seeped with blood, especially below his waist. Bennix’s back was drenched in blood. Jeyaraj managed to convey that the two of them had been beaten up 100, 200 times by policemen, all through the night,” said Joseph, his voice breaking.
Police men allowed Bennix to change his trousers for a veshti, Joseph said. But blood seeped through even that. “They asked us to bring another veshti, but that too was drenched before they even took them inside the hospital. Police didn’t let my wife take the clothes Bennix had taken off.”
The family claims the examination at the hospital was an “eyewash” as police never left Jeyaraj and Bennix alone.
A senior police officer, who is aware of the initial probe and did not want to be quoted, said the two were kept at the hospital for about two hours to stabilise them and to reduce the bleeding. “They were given some medicine. They changed half-a-dozen times as their clothes kept getting soaked with blood, especially Bennix’s. Around 11.30-11.45 am, they were taken to the magistrate for remand,” the officer said.
The family said that at the court too, Jeyaraj and Bennix were surrounded by seven-eight police officers at all times, and could not speak freely. The judge sent them on remand to Kovilpatti Sub Jail, with a bail hearing not possible before Monday.
On Sunday, June 21, the family said, they got no word from the two. A family member’s attempts to meet them failed, with the prison authorities citing Covid-19 fears to deny the request, including on Monday.
The same evening, Jeyaraj’s wife received a call saying Bennix’s blood pressure was critically low. Later, another call told the family to come immediately to the jail hospital. Bennix died on Monday night, followed by Jeyaraj a few hours later.
A senior officer part of the police probe said initial findings show the two were stripped, tortured all of June 19-20 night and a baton inserted into their rectums. “Bennix had more bleeding than his father. Police reportedly set upon him after he tried to stop an officer from beating his father.”
Refusing to comment on a matter that is in court, Thoothukudi SP Arun Balagopalan said, “They died in judicial custody, not in police custody… The post-mortem has been completed.” The report, submitted to the court in a sealed cover, is not yet out.
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