NAPM condemns the alleged custodial torture and death of Jayaraj and Bennicks by TN police

The organization demands for the end the regime of police torture and custodial terror

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National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has denounced the unlawful and inhuman actions of the police personnel allegedly involved in the custodial torture that led to the death of Thootukudi residents; father-son duo Jayaraj and Bennicks. NAPM has issued a statement saying that while police violence in India is not new, and that this particular incident demonstrates the grotesque nature of the institution that gives itself the licence to humiliate, violate rights of and even take lives of citizens.

On June 19, P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks were picked up by the Tamil Nadu Police for questioning for allegedly violating lockdown rules. The police said that the duo had kept their shop open beyond permissible hours on June 19. Various media reports say that the shop was only open for 15 minutes beyond the permissible time. The Tamil Nadu police then filed an FIR against the two on the same day, India Today reported.

It was reported that on Monday, June 22, Bennicks fell ill and was moved to the Kovilpatti General Hospital, where he passed away. A day later, on Tuesday, his father too passed away. It was alleged that both, father and son, were tortured in police custody, which led to their deaths. A report by The Federal also said that Jayaraj and Bennicks were allegedly sodomised in police custody.

Bennicks’s friends and lawyers also alleged that both Jayaraj and Bennicks had been threatened with dire consequences, should they speak of what was done to them before the Judicial Magistrate, and that they were kept a substantial distance away from the Magistrate at all points, rendering the entire process farcical. The Magistrate remanded them to judicial custody. Newspaper reports indicated that an entry made in the sub-jail register in Kovilpatti, on their being remanded to judicial custody, records bruises to the gluteal region and bleeding injuries sustained by them. This is confirmed by the medical report of the Kovilpati Govt Hospital.

In light of the heinous event, NAPM said that the FIR filed by the police against Jayaraj and Bennicks on June 19 indicated an attempt at obfuscation, stating that on being asked to close their shop according to lockdown guidelines the father-son duo refused and ‘rolled’ on the ground, sustaining internal injuries! The facts of the case clearly establish that the police officials, the magistrate who ordered remand and medical officers, have all failed to discharge their legal mandate as well as in upholding judicial principles.

In the matter, NAPM has demanded –

1.       An independent doctor’s presence during the autopsy,

2.       An independent, time-bound judicial inquiry into the horrific incident with civil society involvement,

3.       An SIT constituted and monitored by an independent judicial commission,

4.       Registration of an FIR against the police personnel allegedly involved under Section 302 and other sections of the law,

5.       Exemplary compensation to the families of the deceased and

6.       An immediate public apology by the DGP and Chief Minister to the family and a clear assurance that the guilty will be brought to book at the earliest.

NAPM also said that while incidents like these grab public attention, they only form a ‘tip of the horrendous iceberg’ of custodial violence across the country. NAPM said, “Days after the Thoothukudi incident made headlines, information of ‘death’ of Mr. Kumaresan, an auto driver who was tortured by the Tenkasi (TN) police last month has surfaced now!”

Deccan Herald had reported that in another alleged case of police violence, a 25-year-old auto-rickshaw driver from Tenkasi, Tamil Nadu, who was “beaten up mercilessly” by policemen during interrogation about a land-related issue a month ago, succumbed to his injuries at a government hospital where he was being treated. It was alleged that Kumaresan was heavily assaulted by two policemen – the policemen stamped him on his chest and genital areas, when he was summoned to the local police station on May 10.

NAPM continued in its statement, “A few months ago, we all witnessed the gruesome police violence (leading to death) on 23-year-old Faizan in the national capital who was forced to sing the national anthem! Torture in the police force seems to have an institutional validation and guilty officers are rarely punished. In fact, in the (in)famous case of physical and sexual torture of adivasi social activist Soni Sori, IPS officer Ankit Garg was recommended by the State for Presidential award for ‘meritorious’ service! Such actions not only condone but also encourage the errant officials.”

NAPM mentions that recent examples of police torture show that religious minorities, Adivasis, Dalits, de-notified tribes, women, minors and transgender persons are especially vulnerable to police excesses and custodial violence. The India – Annual Torture Reports for 2018 and 2019 indicate, an average of 5 people ‘die’ in custody in India every single day of the year (1966 custodial deaths in 2018, 1731 in 2019), a vast majority in judicial custody indicating that they die after having been presented before a Magistrate.

It also stated that it was unfortunate that the ‘Anti-Torture Bill’ passed by the Lok Sabha in 2010 never saw the light of the decade. The objective of the proposed ‘Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010’, was to ‘provide punishment for torture inflicted by public servants or any person inflicting torture with the consent or acquiescence of any public servant…’. It proposed a punishment of a minimum of 3 years which may be extended to 10 years and fine for torture inflicted for purpose of extorting confession, or for punishing or on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground. However, the bill introduced during the time of the UPA government was not considered seriously by the current NDA government and has thus taken a backseat.

While the two police personnel allegedly involved in the custodial torture of Jayaraj and Bennicks have been suspended, this is just a stop-gap remedy and will not hold to eradicate this systemic problems from its roots.

Citing that the incident from Tamil Nadu has captured public imagination at a time when not just in the United States, but world over, the racist police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and many other African-American people have sparked enormous outrage, leading to a new watershed in the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the stronger discourse and public consciousness around ‘abolition’ and ‘defunding’ of the police, NAPM has called upon the Tamil Nadu government and other state governments to –

1. Ensure that the State Police Complaints Authority is functional, and has the powers to make binding recommendations to the state government;

2. Invest heavily in training police personnel at all levels, on a yearly basis; centre human rights in police training and ensure civil society and activist involvement in the training process;

3. Implement the internationally recognized doctrine of command responsibility, to hold directing officers vicariously liable for the excesses of those under their direct command;

4. Press for the Indian state to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984 and fulfil commitments therein by passing a robust ‘Anti-Torture’ law;

5. Mandate that Judicial Magistrates be required to speak with arrested persons brought before them privately, before remanding them to custody;

6. Undertake in earnest the structural reforms required to detoxify the Indian police force; reforms including but not restricted to the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the directives of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh and others v Union of India and others (2006) 8 SCC 1, which have largely gone ignored in the 14 years, since the judgement was delivered.

In India, we still have a long way to go to end the culture of state-sanctioned and structural violence and impunity, says NAPM. Concluding its statement, it says, “We call upon citizens, civil society and governments to recognize the imminent need for a sensitive and violence-free police force, in order to work towards the larger goal of a society sans violence, with respect for human rights, peace, dignity and justice.”


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