Rasheeda Bhagat

Police high-handedness hits a new low in TN

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on June 29, 2020

Will those responsible for the gruesome murder of the father-son duo in Thoothukudi get the punishment they deserve?

Soon after Indian celebrities and twiterrati had done with trending and endorsing #BlackLivesMatter following the choking to death by a policeman of George Floyd, a black man, in the US, Tamil Nadu was shocked by the torture and murder of a father and son duo in police custody in Thoothukudi. Their sin: Keeping their cell phone shop open in Sathankulam town in violation of lockdown norms. An offence that should have got, at worst, a prison sentence of three months. But the police personnel assaulted Jeyaraj (father) and his son Beniks (altered/Tamil form of Phoenix, according to some reports) and continued it for three days.

Last fortnight, Jeyaraj, who belonged to the powerful Nadar trading community of the town, was picked up by the police for allegedly passing some caustic comments on a police patrol party on the rounds to enforce the lockdown. He was picked up the next morning and taken to the police station. Beniks, who went to the police station to find out what had happened, according to some accounts, saw his father being assaulted, and got into an altercation with the policemen. He was taken into custody, too.

Gory and sordid details about the severe beating and torture have already been reported as also of the number of times blood-soaked clothes — lungis and trousers — were sent back to Jeyaraj/Beniks family by the police with demands for fresh set of clothes. Let one sentence be recalled here to depict the ghastly image of the brutality of the policemen. Beniks’ sister was quoted by the media as saying: “Imagine, if a man doesn’t even have his front and backside. That is how my brother looked when his friends saw his dead body.”

Finally, the two ended up as yet another case of “custodial death”. But the larger question is why did the Sathankulam Judicial Magistrate grant police custody for these two, who had no criminal record whatsoever.

The continuous screaming of the father and son that Beniks’ friends heard for hours as they waited outside the police station is a clear pointer to the sick, twisted minds that ruled it. Weak attempts to try and justify the police psyche, “at a time our police forces are overstretched and under a lot of pressure during the corona pandemic” do not cut ice.

Jeyaraj and Beniks were systematically and brutally murdered by one or more psychopaths in uniform. Just to suspend them seems to be an inane act of a weak government, something that the present one in Tamil Nadu has already become. The guilty policemen have to be arrested and charged for murder, if justice is to be served.

Whither justice

But that is a moot point. The country’s top court did not act quickly enough when petitions were moved on behalf of migrant workers, who were unable to reach their homes as the country was suddenly locked down. By the time the court did order the Centre and the States to send migrant workers back home, it was too little too late.

By then several deaths had taken place, and many were scarred by the arduous and long journey back home on foot, often without any food or water.

While many Good Samaritans across the country actually helped to feed the migrant workers, most of us sat back and watched their trauma on TV. Can there be a more appropriate word than “disgusting” to describe our response to the trauma of migrant workers?

Returning to the Thoothukudi custodial death of two citizens, the CBI has now been handed over the inquiry. But that is no guarantee that justice will be done. If this case of police brutality from a small town in Tamil Nadu has come to national notice, it is thanks to videos circulated by youngsters on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms explaining in simple English what had happened in Thoothukudi. They raised the right questions about what our celebrities such as film stars, who rushed to hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, were doing about this case of police brutality in their own backyard.

Over the last few days questions were raised about the silence of the Tamil superstar Rajinikanth on this case. And now the megastar is reported to have called the family and expressed his condolences.

In the meantime, the family waits for justice.

Published on June 30, 2020

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