Tamil Nadu experienced a massive protest against the ghastly murder of a father-son duo of Jayaraj and Benniks in Santhankulam in Thoothukudi district. The citizens voiced their anger via social media, and at some places, like in Thoothokudi, people came out in the streets. This spontaneous protest did not go unnoticed resulting in the Madurai bench of Madras High Court taking up the issue as a suo-moto investigation, and also attracted national media too. CPDR-TN had brought out a detailed analysis of events leading to these custodial deaths.
However, it is not the only incidence in Tamil Nadu where police excesses had been responsible for the death of ordinary people during the lockdown. The only difference is that in other occurrences, the protests have been confined within people close to the victims. Hence, CPDR-TN feels that it is necessary to chronicle these deaths so that the reader understands that the incident in Santhankulam is not any exception but a continuity.
The case of Mahendran killed in police custody at Sathankulam police station is a pointer. Mahendran, a 28-year old youth, was forcefully taken by the same SI Balakrishnan of Santhankulam police station on the 23rd of May and that too without any warranty. What wrong did Mahendran do? Apparently nothing. His elder brother, Durai, is one of the suspects in the murder case of Jayakumar. So, Mahendran was picked up in an effort to find Durai. In the police station, he was beaten by the police, and it is alleged that the volunteers belong to an extra-legal organisation, Friends of Police, had also taken part in the torture (https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2020/jun/30/sathankulam-deaths-investigate-role-of-friends-of-police-volunteers-2163429.html). Mahendran, who had no prior record of any crime, was the primary bread earner of the family. Despite the toll taken by the heavy beating, Mahendran had to go to work, while taking medicines advised by the doctor. But the poor man could not carry on with his struggle and succumbed in the government hospital in Thoothukudi, due to the head injury sustained during police torture. His MRI report shows that “he had suffered acute left MCA territory infract and thrombosis (meaning clotting) in the brain” (https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/mahendran-another-case-of-police-brutality-in-tuticorin-after-jayaraj-beniks-custodial-deaths-1696855-2020-07-04). No post-mortem was carried out, and the family was forced to perform the last rites, which is a clear breach of legal provisions.
Another accused in Jayakumar’s murder, Raja Singh was arrested on the 18th of May. He, too, was tortured and imprisoned. The monitoring of his condition has now been asked by the Madurai bench while enquiring the twin Sathankulam murder, via the court-appointed magistrate Bharathidasan. It is said that SI Balakrishnan’s high–handedness is not arising only due to his misuse of his power as a police official. He has been alleged to be involved in caste-rivalry and had misused official authority to carry out unwarranted arrests and harassment of members of other castes. “As per a letter signed by three Panchayat Presidents in the area as well as trade union leaders, SI Raghuganesh is said to have instigated the Konar youth of these villages to destroy homes of people belonging to the other castes”(https://www.thelede.in/governance/2020/06/27/three-cops-in-sathankulam-leave-a-trail-of-violence-casteism-in-one-year). It may be recalled that Santhankulam is the same police station where ArunBharath had died in police custody in 2006. His mother is still expecting justice for his dead son (https://www.dtnext.in/News/TamilNadu/2020/06/29014342/1238323/14-yrs-on-another-brutality-case-awaits-justice-in-.vpf)
In the immediate aftermath of the tragic incidence involving Mahendran, Habeeb Mohammed was kicked and battered in Arumuganeri Police station in Thoothukudi district, some 30 km away from Santhankulam. He was picked up for having a wordy duel with a police inspector. His kidney got damaged, and he had to undergo dialysis. “We were shocked and took him to a private hospital the next morning because he was in too much pain,” says Jamal, Hajeeb’s grandfather. “They refused to admit him there because it was an assault and then we went to a government hospital in Kayalpattinam,” he added. At the Kayalpattinam government hospital, the accident register clearly cites injuries on Habeeb’s thighs. Under ‘Nature of injury and treatment’ it states, “Alleged assault by 4 unknown (male) on 9/6/20 at 11.30 am . H/O injury with plastic pipe buttocks/thigh in Arumuganeri police station’. … The document has been signed by the Medical officer and the intimation register too records the injuries as a result of ‘Assault’.” (https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/31-year-old-thoothukudi-alleges-he-dialysis-after-police-thrashed-him-127578). The police tried to pressurise the family to not put on record the police assault in the documents filed in the hospital. When the family members of Janeen Mohammed refused to do so, they were sent out of the hospital without treatment. As a result, he had to undergo dialysis spending his hard-earned money. In the words of Habeeb, “My father is a clerk in a hospital and my wife and mother don’t work. Now, I am unable to go to work as well. Every session of dialysis costs Rs.6000-7000. … I don’t know how much longer we can afford the treatment”.
Then there is a case of police-handedness leading to the death of a youth in Tenkasi. Kumaresan of Veerakeralampudur of Tenkasi, a 25-year old auto driver, was picked up by the SI Chandrasekhar and constable Kumar belonging to VK Pudur police station on the 10th of May for arbitration in a verbal duel involving Kumaresan. There he was assaulted brutally with lathi and was released later. Though visibly not well, Kumaresan had not revealed the incident in the police station to anyone till the 12th of June when he disclosed the conflicts to his father, Navaneethakrishnan when Kumaresan had to be admitted in the government hospital in Tirunelveli. “At the hospital, he told me that the policemen had threatened him to not talk about the incident to anyone outside, and if he breathed a word about this, they would file a case under the Goondas Act on both him and me and put us in jail. So, Kumaresan did not tell this until he was admitted to the hospital. After about three days, he was shifted to ICU, where his condition further deteriorated,” Navaneethakrishnan said.” (https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/25-yr-old-man-tn-dies-allegedly-due-injuries-beating-police-custody-127554 ). He died on the 27th of June.
These incidences suggest that police brutality during the lockdown period has reached a new high. Lathi wielding police did not hesitate to brandish the lathis on anyone in a small pretext of a violation. It appears that the supposed authority to guard the people against the spread of coronavirus gave them an extra-legal force. It is evident from the way the people were arrested, and cases were slapped, and the traders assaulted even though the permission existed for their transport.
While these instances appear to be regular cases of police atrocities to be pursued via legal processes, the lockdown period has made it difficult for the clients to take the support of lawyers as would be the situation under normal circumstances or approach courts for an injunction or court intervention. This difficult circumstances of the lockdown period along with the knowledge that economically weaker sections of the society can possibly be made to submit more quickly in these troubled times seem to have given the police an audacity to use power with impunity. (End)