The Tuticorin custodial death of a father-son duo has shaken the state of Tamil Nadu and has resulted in a massive social media outrage throughout the entire nation. The hashtag #JusticeForJayarajAndFenix has become a top trend on Twitter, with people across the entire nation coming together on various social media platforms to condemn the alleged police brutality and are demanding justice for the deceased father-son duo, P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks who is mistakenly being referred to as Fenix on most of the social media platforms. Though the alleged role of the Police in inflicting vicious torture that led to the untimely demise of Jayaraj and Bennicks is yet to be proved, however, the circumstances, media reports and the statements from the family and friend of the deceased, point as of now towards police brutality. If the involvement of Police, in this case, is confirmed, this will become yet another example of the collective failure of the Police, misuse of power and the blatant abuse of Human rights in India.
On June 19, P Jayaraj (59) and his son J Bennicks (31) were picked up for questioning by the Tamil Nadu Police in Tuticorin’s Sathankulam area for allegedly violating lockdown rules by keeping their mobile accessories shop open beyond the permissible time limit. Then they were taken in remand after obtaining an order from the magistrate. On June 22, Bennicks fell ill and was transferred to the Kovilpatti General Hospital where he died. Jayaraj, his father, also died the following day.
As per some media reports which quoted the statement of Bennick’s friend, the deceased father-son duo was sexually assaulted in the police custody. It is alleged that they were not only brutally thrashed and stamped several times on their chest with heavy boots but were also sodomised where a baton was cruelly inserted into their rectum. He even added that the father-son duo had changed at least seven lungies (Waistcloth) each as they bled profusely from their injured rectum. Bennick’s friend, who was present in the police station when they were being rounded up, even stated that the painful screams of Jayaraj and Bennicks had filled the entire room.
This unfortunate incident has resulted in a massive outrage in the state of Tamil Nadu with people taking to the streets demanding justice for the victims. The family of Jayaraj and Bennicks has demanded that a murder case be registered against two sub-inspectors, alleging that they were responsible for the death of the two. Various political leaders of the opposition, celebrities and the general public of the state have participated in the protest and have severely condemned the police for such cruelty. The outrage has spread like wildfire throughout, bringing the entire nation together on social media to stand against the cruelty of the Police.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, K Palaniswami has assured that legal action will be taken as per the order of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court and on the basis of the magisterial probe into the custodial death of the father-son duo in Tuticorin. The Tamil Nadu CM has also announced ₹ 10 lakh ex gratia to their families and a government job to a family member of the deceased. However, these announcements have failed to suffice the agitated public.
Moreover, this case if proved as custodial murder shouldn’t just be closed with punishment given to the involved policemen or by providing compensation to the family of the deceased, since these actions will not solve the root cause of police brutality in India which is quite pertinent and is allowed to happen in silence. Incidents like these highlight the lack of professionalism in the investigative methods and the use of abusive techniques by police behind the veil. This incident not only brings into light the case of police brutality but also the oppression of the downtrodden by the people holding power.
In the case of Jayaraj and Bennicks who were taken into police custody for violating the lockdown guidelines would have only been charged under the Section 188 of IPC (for disobeying the time restrictions ordered by a public servant), but they were also booked under Section 383 (extortion by threat) and Section 506 (ii) (criminal intimidation). By adding the charge of ‘Criminal intimidation’ in the FIR, the police made their crime (which was not that severe to start with,) into a non-bailable offence. For the offence they had committed, Police could have given them a warning or could have sealed their shop. If there was any need of taking them in remand, they at least should not have been charged under a non- bailable offence. The inclusion of non-bailable section for an offence like this indicates the sole aim of the involved policemen which was to harass both of them. It can be a case of personal vendetta or grudge of the involved policemen who felt disrespected when their order was disobeyed and wanted to teach them a lesson. But would the same policemen have done the same act or would have at least even taken an offender into remand if in place of Jayaraj and Bennicks, had they been some big businessman? The answer lies with all of us.
Cases of custodial deaths and human rights abuse in the hands of police are not new in India. They are pertinent and are allowed unofficially. In a similar case, recently, an Odia youth was beaten to death by police in Gujarat. The Odia youth who was working in Gujarat was also alleged to have broken the lockdown norms. On October 27, 2019, a 26-year-old youth, Vijay Singh, died in police custody at Mumbai’s Wadala Truck Terminal police station where the family of the deceased alleged assault at the hands of the police, following which five policepersons were suspended, The Times of India reported on October 30, 2019. There are several many such cases in the past which were silently closed with a meagre percentage of case where any police personnel were held responsible. And sadly, most of those cases have failed to create public uproar as it happened in this case.
Throughout the years, India has shown a distressing increase in custodial deaths. From four custodial deaths per day which accounted for a total of 14,231 deaths in the last 10 years between 2001 and 2010, the custodial deaths have increased to five per day in 2017-18. Statistics given by the home ministry before the Rajya Sabha showed that India has recorded a total of 1,674 custodial deaths — 1,530 in judicial custody and 144 in police custody — between 1 April 2017 and 28 February 2018.
The most worrying fact is that, in 62 cases of custodial deaths only 33 policepersons were arrested, 27 were chargesheeted out of which four were acquitted or discharged, and none were convicted. The NCRB also recorded 56 cases against police personnel for human rights violations alone in 2017. In which 57 police were arrested, 48 were chargesheeted and only three were convicted. These data not only highlight the abuse at the hands of the police personnel and custodial deaths from torture but also the impunity of those who are responsible for it.
However, this particular case is just not about custodial murder. The thought process behind this act is more inhuman than it actually seems. It brings into light the inhuman brutal acts which any powerful person uses as a medium of oppression against a disadvantaged victim. This beastly act of inserting a baton into someone’s rectum is a part of the horrifying rape culture, where the perpetuator’s sole aim is not to satisfy their sexual desire but to also prove their dominance by breaking down the victim completely. It’s about the mentality of winning over someone physically by inflicting such painful injuries in the private parts, that the victim can neither forget the pain nor can disclose to anyone because of the social stigma associated with it. This inhuman act is a part of the same mentality where the rape culture has been nourished. Inserting a baton into the rectum of the father-son duo comes in the same line where a metal rod or candles were inserted into the private part of the victims after brutally raping them in the past. This case also highlights the cases of men undergoing sexual assault, which has always remained behind the veil. This particular case if proved should be treated as heinous crime and strong punishment should be given to the accused which can serve as an example for others.
It is important to understand that no act of brutality or abuse is an uncommon outcome. It’s just the result of all the abusive behaviour in the past where the people in power were not questioned, that gradually took bigger and more brutal forms. Inserting a baton into someone’s rectum is nothing but the larger outcome of each slap or abusive word used to shun or frighten someone away. This is not a rare incident at all. This is a manifestation of all the abuses in the past where the higher authorities and the general public chose to remain silent. This incident calls for the implementation of strong policies to curb misconduct done by the police against the common people. This also envisages the need of the higher authorities of the department to be held responsible and emphasizes their involvement to bring in required change.
If you have stood against the injustice committed against George Floyd, then you should also stand for Jayaraj and Bennicks. The mass protests demanding for justice for George Floyd has resulted in the introduction of the police reform bill in the US, known as ‘George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020’ that holds law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, aims to improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies.
Can we not stand together till such reforms are introduced in India as well?