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Accounts submitted to the Madras High Court regarding around a dozen victims of alleged torture at the Sathankulam Police Station at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, which is under probe following the death of a father and son, show similarities in their wounds. Following the court’s intervention, the officers at the station are now facing probe in another case of custodial death, involving a 28-year-old, which happened just days before P Jeyaraj and son J Bennix died.
Meanwhile, the family of a 33-year-old autorickshaw driver came forward to allege torture on him at Arumuganeri Police Station, about 40 km from Sathankulam, leaving him on dialysis.
Having suspended all the five officers at the Sathankulam station earlier, the Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday transferred Tuticorin SP Arun Balagopalan and put him under “compulsory wait”. S Murugan is the new South Zone IG.
Tirunelveli CB-CID DSP Anil Kumar will now take over the investigation into Jeyaraj and Bennix’s deaths, following the High Court’s orders. While the state government on Monday night transferred the case to the CBI, the court said the CB-CID should probe, following concern over possibility of disappearance of the evidence before the CBI takes over.
Tamil Nadu custodial deaths | Top cop retires, another shunted out; new faces also tainted
A source at the High Court said it had received complaints as well as physical evidence regarding torture of around a dozen victims. The officers mostly hit the victims on the buttocks, leaving deep wounds, the source said. Attempts were on to determine the instruments used “to inflict such injuries”.
A source attached to the forensic wing of the Tamil Nadu Health Department, who has seen some of the evidence, said in many cases the wounds got infected as treatment was delayed. In the case of Muthukumar, one of the alleged victims, wounds seemed over two weeks old. “It could be hours long beating with a lathi or using a heated blunt instrument,” said the source.
Last week, the Madras High Court had noted that Rajasingh, one of those allegedly tortured at the Sathankulam station nearly two weeks ago, had deep wounds on his buttocks. He was hospitalised only on June 24, following judicial intervention.
The third case of custodial murder that the Sathankulam station officers are now facing is of Mahendran, a mason who was arrested on May 23 by police, who were looking for his brother Durai regarding a murder case. In her complaint to the court, Mahendran’s mother S Vadivu has said he died on June 13 following torture over May 23 and 24 at the Sathankulam police station. The Sub-Inspector who arrested the 28-year-old, Raghu Ganesh, is also an accused in the deaths of Jeyaraj and Bennix.
“After he was released on May 24, Mahendran kept crying saying he couldn’t bear the pain left by the torture,” Vadivu has said, adding that the 28-year-old’s condition kept deteriorating. Eventually, he lost movement in his right hand and right leg, and died at the Thoothukudi government hospital on June 13.
Vadivu says police threatened her to keep quiet. “Durai had surrendered by then. Sub-Inspector Ganesh said we should refuse a post-mortem or cases would be foisted on Durai and his wife. We had no other option, we buried him without a post-mortem,” her petition before the court says.
The auto-driver who is now dependent on dialysis has alleged that he was tortured by women officers at the Arumuganeri Police Station. Habeeb Muhammed, 33, who belongs to Kayalpattinam in Thoothukudi, was arrested for not wearing a mask and smoking a beedi while driving his auto.
In his petition before the high court, Habeeb has said two women constables took him into custody on June 9 morning. At the station, he said, four constables beat him, while a woman inspector kicked him in the face. “Then they used a blue plastic pipe to hit me on the legs. They told me to get up and jump, and made me sit and stood on my thighs,” he said, adding that the torture went on for two hours continuously before he was let off at 2.30 pm.
A source aware of the case said severe kicks to his stomach left Habeeb injured, and he reported to a private hospital at Kayalpattinam after noticing blood in his urine. When the doctor there arranged for him to be taken to the Thoothukudi government hospital in an ambulance, a Sub-Inspector from Arumuganeri station stopped the vehicle and Habeeb said he was discharged and sent home.
Within a few hours, his condition worsened and they returned to the same private hospital. On June 12, Habeeb was shifted to another private hospital, in Tirunelveli, where he underwent dialysis till June 18. “I am undergoing dialysis every alternate day now, my health is deteriorating,” he has said in his petition.
According to Habeeb, police came to the hospital too to stop his family from filing a formal complaint. Last week, the district legal aid authority helped the family file a petition before the high court.
The choice of Jeyakumar and Murugan as the new SP and IG of Tuticorin and South Zone, respectively, could also spark off a controversy. Jeyakumar had been questioned in connection with the 2018 gutkha scam involving top police officers, while the influential Murugan is accused of sexually harassing a senior woman police officer.
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