26/06/2020 6:30 PM IST

Outrage Builds Over Thoothukudi Custodial Deaths, Protesters Demand Justice

Two sub-inspectors and two head constables have been suspended in connection with the incident.

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Representative image. 

The alleged custodial death of a father and son in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu has led to widespread outrage and protests demanding justice. Shops in the district were closed on Wednesday as a mark of protest.

The Madras High Court has sought a report on the matter and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister said four police personnel, including two sub-inspectors, have been suspended in connection with the incident. 

The relatives of P Jayaraj and his son J Bennix, PTI said, have alleged that the two were picked up by the police on 19 June for questioning for keeping their mobile accessories shop open during the lockdown and were thrashed by the police personnel in the station. They died in hospital a few days later.   

The Tamil Nadu govt’s version

According to PTI, Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said the father and son were picked up on June 19 after a case was filed against them for not heeding to police’s direction to close their cellphone shop. They were later arrested and lodged in the Kovilpatti sub-jail.

On June 22, Bennix complained of breathlessness and was admitted to a local government hospital, where he died around 9 pm after failing to respond to treatment, the Chief Minister said in a statement.

The next morning, Bennix’s father Jayaraj was admitted to the hospital after he complained of illness, but also died, he added.

Subsequently, a case was filed in this connection.

The Madras High Court took up the case on its own on Wednesday and ordered a video recording of the post-mortem after the relatives of the two men moved the court. 

IG South Zone Shanmuga Rajeswaran and Tuticorin district police chief Arun Balagopal appeared before the court in the virtual hearing on Wednesday, Palaniswami was quoted as saying by PTI.

They informed the bench that two sub-inspectors and two head constables attached to Sathankulam police station have been suspended, while an inspector was put on a “waiting list”.

The Chief Minister also said that further course of action will be based on the report of the judicial magistrate as well as the directions of the High Court.

Meanwhile, the family demanded that a murder case be registered against the two sub-inspectors. Jayaraj’s wife, according to The Indian Express, lodged a complaint, alleging that police brutality led to the death of her husband and son.

Outrage builds

All shops in the district were closed on Wednesday and over 1,000 people of Sathankulam town staged a protest on Tuesday, according to reports. 

A report in The Federal quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the duo were brutally tortured, and suffered rectal bleeding.

The News Minute reported that the conduct of Sathankulam Judicial Magistrate D Saravanan, who should have checked the physical condition of the men before issuing a remand order, is also under the scanner.

The protesters demanded the arrest and suspension of the police officers responsible for the incident, reported The Indian Express. The demands also included compensation of Rs 50 lakh to the family members of the deceased and a doctor from the protesters’s side to be allowed during the autopsy. 

The Chief Minister has announced Rs 10 lakh each to the family of the deceased and a government job to one person from the family, based on their qualification.

Meanwhile, several people on Twitter remembered the police crackdown on people protesting against pollution from Sterlite Copper plant two years ago. At least 13 people were killed and several injured in 2018 when police opened fire at the protesters. 

DMK hits out at AIADMK

The DMK on Friday accused the AIADMK government of allowing the police personnel to take “law into their own hands”.

MK Stalin, Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, said all those responsible for the alleged “barbarity” should get tough punishment and his party would support all legal action for it.

(With PTI inputs)