A judicial inquiry into the deaths of a father and son following alleged torture at the hands of the Sathankulam police in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, has found that nearly a dozen people had reported being beaten up at the same police station two weeks ago, by the same officers. Of them, one died later and two were hospitalised following intervention by judicial officers.
The Thoothukudi District Judge submitted his report, describing it as “disturbing information of custodial torture”, to the Madras High Court on June 25, seeking further directions regarding a detailed probe. The report is expected to come up in the court on Tuesday. Sources said the role of Sathankulam Judicial Magistrate P Saravanan, who cleared the custodial remand of at least one of the dozen, as well as that of the deceased P Jeyaraj, 62, and his son J Bennix, 32, is also being probed.
On Sunday, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami recommended transfer of the probe into Jeyaraj and Bennix’s deaths to the CBI.
A source at the High Court told The Indian Express that the judicial report found that a fortnight ago, eight people, including a minor, kept at the Sathankulam Police Station had been tortured “continuously for three days” by officers, helped by a volunteer group called ‘Friends of Police’.
The report names Sub-Inspectors Balakrishnan and Raghu Ganesh as having led the torture, with Inspector Sridhar playing “an active role” and urging them on. The same three officers are named in the deaths of Jeyaraj and Bennix, and have been suspended.
It’s not clear from the judicial report the offence for which the person who died earlier due to alleged torture, Mahendran, was taken in custody, soon after his brother Durai’s arrest. The report says, “Durai’s own younger brother (Mahendran) was beaten to death by the same officers at Sathankulam station, the body was handed over to his mother without post-mortem. The family was threatened that Durai also will be killed in the same manner if they speak out,” the source said.
Another accused, Rajasingh, whom the judicial team met, was allegedly tortured first at Sathankulam Police Station and then at Thattarmadam, 70 km away. This was after police, who picked up Rajasingh along with seven others in connection with a murder, named him in an autorickshaw theft case of 2017, after having procured his remand.
Among the eight, the juvenile, 16, was kept illegally in police custody for two days and beaten up. It was not immediately known who the others allegedly tortured were.
Rajasingh told the judicial team that the officers made him lie down on a bench and, as Friends of Police volunteers sat on his legs, someone held his head and hands and the two Sub-Inspectors beat him. He has accused Inspector Sridhar of giving the orders. A photo accessed by The Indian Express shows a deep open gash on Rajasingh’s left buttock.
The judicial report says the men were “continuously beaten up on various parts of the body, particularly the buttocks, with lathis”. As per the source, the report adds that the men were threatened not to tell anything to the magistrate when presented before him for remand. “The Judicial Magistrate (Saravanan) saw the accused from a distance and remanded them,” the source said. The Indian Express reported on Sunday that Jeyaraj’s family said Magistrate Saravanan had cleared his and Bennix’s remand while standing a floor above.
Rajasingh named officers Ganesh and Maharajan as having led the torture at Thattarmadam Police Station.
Despite visible injuries, including deep open wounds in his private parts, the source said, Rajasingh was sent to Kovilpatti Sub Jail. “He should have been sent to hospital instead.”
The judicial report also notes that the Kovilpatti Sub-Jail has no CCTV and that several prisoners lodged there had told the team they had been subjected to torture at various police stations in Thoothukudi district. The report has questioned why the superintendent of the sub-jail failed to act as per the prison manual, particularly on ensuring that prisoners receive needed medical treatment. Jeyaraj and Bennix were also brought to the same jail, on June 20, reportedly in a grievous condition, and died two days later.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif
Thoothukudi Collector Sandeep Nanduri told The Indian Express he knew of the matter only through the media and that, with the judiciary involved, had no jurisdiction over the case. District SP Arun Balagopalan remained unavailable for comment. The district judge who submitted the report, as well as the officers accused of torture, could not be reached.
With the Opposition, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, demanding action over Jeyaraj and Bennix’s deaths, Tamil Nadu Information Minister Kadambur C Raju on Sunday said their deaths could not be called custodial deaths, because “they died in judicial custody, two days after their remand”.
P M Vishnuvardhanan, the lawyer representing the family of Jeyaraj and Bennix, said Rajasingh’s case was going to be crucial in their fight. “Inspector Sridhar’s room was on the first floor of the police station, next to a staircase. Several witnesses have told us Jeyaraj and Bennix were taken to the first floor during the course of the all-night torture on June 19-20. At least four vacant rooms next to Sridhar’s were used as torture rooms,” the lawyer said, urging the judiciary to ensure Rajasingh got treatment and came to no harm, and to probe the death of Mahendran.
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