Tamil Nadu: Social Media Outrage, Protests Over Brutal Thoothukudi Custodial Deaths

The deaths of 58-year-old Jayaraj and his 31-year-old son Bennix, who owned a mobile shop in Sathankulam, have sparked outrage across the country even as many questions remain unanswered.

Mumbai: The custodial deaths of a father and son have sparked protests across parts of Tamil Nadu with many taking to the streets to demand justice. Earlier this week, Jayaraj, 59, and his son Bennix, 31, were allegedly brutalised by the Sathankulam police for reportedly keeping their mobile shop open for a few minutes after the permitted time.

Their death has sparked public outrage and two sub-inspectors have been suspended so far. #JusticeForJayarajAndFenix has also become a top trend on Twitter

Bennix owned a small mobile phone shop in Sathankulam town in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district. On June 18, Bennix had kept his shop until around 8:15 pm and the policemen on patrolling duty had pulled him up for crossing the deadline. According to the Indian Express report, an argument ensued between the police and Bennix.

A day later, the policemen visited the shop again and had an argument with Jayaraj. They then took him to the police station soon after. When Bennix found out, he rushed to the police station and both the father and son was booked under several sections of the IPC, including Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 353 (use of force to deter public servant from duty).

Also read: Sanjiv Bhatt Case: In 16 Years, Gujarat Saw 180 Custodial Deaths – and Zero Convictions

The two were later moved to the Kovilpatti sub-jail. The same evening, Bennix complained of chest pain and Jayaraj had a high fever. Both were taken to the Kovilpatti government hospital, where Bennix died on Monday evening and Jayaraj succumbed to a respiratory illness on Tuesday morning.

Several eyewitnesses have accused the police of brutalising the father and son. Jayaraj’s wife, Selvarani, has lodged a complaint, alleging that police brutality led to their death.

In her complaint to the district criminal court and assistant commissioner, Selvarani has alleged that the police brutally attacked her husband and son, used curse words, and threatened to kill them. She has demanded that the policemen responsible for their death be charged under Section 302 for murder.

Bennix’s friends, who had accompanied him to the police station, have alleged that the police did not allow them to meet him until the next day.

According to a report in The News Minute, the police have made bizarre claims in their FIR. According to the police’s version, around 9.15 pm on June 19, head constable S. Murugan and constable Muthuraj were on patrolling duty in the area where Bennix’s shop is located.

“The shop was open after the curfew time imposed by the district administration due to lockdown. Jayaraj, his son Bennix and a few other friends were standing outside the shop. We told them to disperse. While others went away, Jayaraj and Bennix sat on the ground and abused us verbally and rolled on the ground. In this, they suffered internal injuries,” the FIR stated.

The FIR further claimed that the deceased persons had reportedly threatened to kill the policemen. “They told us that if we compelled them to leave, they would beat us and kill us,” the FIR claimed.

On June 24, Jayaraj’s daughter Percy told the media that the policemen had pushed her father by his neck to the floor and beaten him. “When my brother questioned the police as to why they were beating our father, the police hit him also. My father got tense seeing this. The police then thrashed them both for almost two hours, locking the door. My brother’s friends, who are also lawyers, had gone to the station but they were not allowed to meet them. They assaulted my brother and father so much,” she said.

Also read: As Hyderabad Encounter Questions Mount, HC Wants Video of Killed Suspects’ Post-Mortems

Not just the police brutality at play in the case, several questions have also been raised over the judicial magistrate D. Saravanan’s role in granting custody without conducting the mandated medical check-up.

The Madurai bench of Madras high court took suo motu cognizance of the matter and on June 24, a bench consisting of Justices P.M. Prakash and B. Pugalendhi ordered the Superintendent of Police, Thoothukudi, to inquire into the incident and submit a status report.

Trader union bodies, various political outfits, activists, and the public at large have condemned the police atrocity and have staged protests in various parts of the town. Their demands include the arrest and suspension of the police officers responsible for the incident, compensation of Rs 50 lakh to the family members of the deceased and a government job to one member of the deceased’s family. They have also demanded that an impartial doctor should be present during the autopsy