New Delhi: The Madurai bench of the Madras high court has ruled that prima facie evidence exists to book for murder the policemen who were allegedly involved in the custodial death of 62-year-old P. Jayaraj and his 32-year-old son J. Bennix in Sattankulam, reported The Hindu.
It also said that to ensure that enquiry into the case was not interfered with, the case be transferred to the CB-CID till the time the CBI takes over.
The court relied heavily on a woman head constable’s statement, the medical report and the judicial magistrate’s report.
“In our opinion, the ante-mortem injuries found on the bodies of the deceased, coupled with the averments in the report of the learned judicial magistrate no.1, Kovilpatti, especially the statement of head constable Revathy, would be prima facie enough to alter the case against the Sattankulam policemen, who were actively involved in the investigation of the case to one under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (murder),” the court said.
Jayaraj and Bennix had been detained by the police for allegedly violating lockdown norms and were allegedly tortured in custody and died at a hospital on June 23.
The woman head constable recorded her statement before a judicial team which had been appointed by the court to probe the deaths. When the team visited the Sathankulam police station where Jayaraj and Bennix were allegedly tortured they were allegedly harassed and intimidated by the policemen at the station, according to a report in the Indian Express.
The Kovilpatti judicial magistrate told the court that the hostility they faced at the police station eventually led them to leave the inquiry mid-way on Sunday.
While most of the staff at the police station did not cooperate with the judicial team, the head constable – although fearful – recorded a detailed statement after she was assured that she would be provided protection.
She told the judicial team that the policemen at the station beat up Jayaraj and Bennix – father and son – through the night using lathis.
“…Due to this there were bloodstains on the lathis and a table and she said they (stains) should be collected immediately as they (policemen) could try to erase them,” the judicial team’s report said.
The 37-year-old has since expressed fear over possible “retaliation from senior officers for giving my statement”. “I did not want my statement to the magistrate to be put out in the public domain and I put this request to them specifically. I really don’t want to be tortured by senior officials,” she said, speaking to the NewsMinute.
The court said that the head constable’s statement should be recorded by a judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC and that her and her family’s safety needs to be ensured. “We fear that there will be an attempt to intimidate her and make her resile from her version [of events] given to the learned judicial magistrate no.1, Kovilpatti,” the court said, according to The Hindu.
District collector Sandeep Nanduri told TNM that, in accordance with the high court’s order, the authorities were ensuring that Revathy was given adequate protection. “Two police constables are appointed for protection for her and her husband. In addition, we have also assured her that she will be given one month leave,” he said.
According to the judicial team’s report to the court, the blood-stained lathis and tables where the two men were made to lie were wiped clean. The report also said that when the team asked the policemen to produce their lathis, they did not and these were only produced when the policemen were ‘compelled’. One policeman even ran away when asked to submit his lathi.
The court has said that a copy of the judicial team’s report be provided to the Additional SP D. Kumar, DSP C. Prathapan and constable Maharajan and that they be asked to respond in four weeks.
Another report in the Indian Express noted that officers at the Sathankulam police station could now face probe in another case of custodial death of a 28-year-old which happened just days before Jayaraj and Bennix died.
Mahendran, a mason, was detained by policemen in May and tortured. After his release, “Mahendran kept crying saying he couldn’t bear the pain left by the torture,” his mother said.
Over the next few days, his condition deteriorated losing movement in his right hand and right leg. He died on June 13 at Thoothukudi government hospital.
The family of a 33-year-old autorickshaw driver has also come forward and alleged that he was tortured at the Arumuganeri Police Station – about 40 kilometres from Sathankulamm police station. He was detained for not wearing a mask and due to the torture now needs dialysis on a daily basis.