The world has not yet forgotten what had happened to Mr. George Floyd, a black man who was killed by Minneapolis on 25 May, 2020. In a broad daylight, on a busy road, the husky voice begging for life, ‘I can’t breathe’ echoed in every nook and corner of the whole world. Floyd freed himself from those eight minutes hell to heaven and the four policemen were put behind bars. The protesting American civil society made it possible. Police brutality is a worldwide phenomenon. In the list of brutal incidents orchestrated by the police, now, a little village in the south tip of Tamilnadu, Sathankulam near Thoothukudi known as Pearl City is included. It happened on 18 June, 2020 and it is coincidental that 72 years ago, on the same day, United Nations completed the draft on the much acclaimed Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The honourable members of the Commission would have never dreamt that on the same day, in a corner of the world, human rights of Mr. Jayaraj and his son Mr. Benicks would be trampled under the thug gang of some police and the ‘friends of police’.
Mr. Benicks was a soft spoken, socially minded person, a regular blood donor and a kind friend of many, after his MSW joined a company at Tirupur, a city known for mass textile production but very soon got annoyed and disturbed on seeing the rampant child labourers there. He left the job and came back to his home town, Sathankulam. He was planning to get married in three months. His father Mr. Jayaraj ran a small timber yard in the village. He supported his son Benicks to set up a mobile shop.
It started with a small dispute on 18 June between the police patrol team and Jayaraj on closing the shop before the stipulated time during lockdown. Informed by an auto driver about the incident on the next day, a team came to the shop to take him in custody. His son got the news and followed them in a two-wheeler. In the station, the police physically assaulted Jayaraj. On seeing that, Benicks questioned the officer and stopped him from beating his father. In the tussle, the police officer was pushed a little and that was enough. They started the saga of beating and brutal attacks on both of them from then onwards till next day morning. One after the other, the thirteen of them including the so-called friends of police bounced on them. It was a high degree of custodial torture that included beating with lathis on their private parts and shoving it behind and so on. The vigil of torture ended in fabricating an FIR on both of them with Section 188, Section 383 and Section 506 of IPC for disobeying the time restrictions, extortion by threat and non-bailable criminal intimidation respectively.
The next day, they were taken to nearby hospital to get the fitness certificate to be remanded. They got it. They were then taken to the local magistrate for remanding them in Kovilpatti sub-jail, 100 KMs away from Sathankulam. The Magistrate permitted them to remand without even seeing the victims in person. Totally worn out due to heavy loss of blood and punctures all over the body, they were remanded in judicial custody. The bleeding was so copious that both of them had to be admitted in the hospital. Benicks complained of severe chest pain and succumbed to it on 22nd evening. The next day morning, his father Jayaraj had respiratory illness and died in the hospital. The death of two innocent people angered the relatives and other traders but the police were scot-free. On witnessing this event, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court took suo moto cognisance of their death. A statutory magisterial probe was ordered under the leadership of Kovilpatti Judicial Magistrate Mr. Bharathi Dasan. He was insulted by the police in the station. Certain Maharajan, a constable rudely spoke ill of him using unparliamentarily words. God-sent Mrs. Revathy, a head constable who was to stay at the station that night of torture came forward to give him the witness statement on torture, which according to the court would be prima facie enough to change the entire case into a murder case under Section 302 of IPC and to transfer it to CBCID. For the first time in the history of police, a police station was ordered to be secured by the revenue officials by the Court. The case is drifting into various turns as everyone is keenly waiting for justice for the victims and their families.
Several serious questions pop up when we read the horrifying story of the father and son duo killed by the police. What was soothing in the entire process is the role of the High Court in taking the case suo moto and it affirms hope in the public. What was very much irritating is the role of the State government that made a mockery of the criminal justice system.
The value of concerted power of people:
Fortunate is the family of the victims; it gained the united power of the people amidst the tribulation. The subsequent protests after the murder and the prompt involvement of the unions of traders brought the incident to light and swiftly changed the course of actions. The civil society and human right activists expressed its rage over the murder through social media and maintained its pitch till right reaction took shape. The comforting messages from UN, celebrities and political leaders struck at the right chord to make us realise that the power of the people is far more righteous than the strength of the thugs.
Good individuals over very bad individuals:
There are some good individuals without whom the earth would have fallen flat. For them, not the fear of unjust force but the love of mercy rules the human race. Mrs. Revathy, the head constable and the investigator Mr. Bharathi Dasan, the honourable judges Mr. PN Prakash and Mr. B. Pugalendhi are some of the people responsible for showing the right path for the case to travel. Both the judges spoke to Revathy and assured her of sufficient protection for her family and personal safety, a rare act of concern from the Court. While we gratefully thank them, we expect them to stubbornly continue their cooperation until justice is begotten to the victims’ family. There are individual police persons who were indulging in the horrific attack on the victims and we come to know now that they have a terrible track history. One already had indulged in a murder in his previously assigned place, the other two had been transferred to this place as punishment.
Mockery of the State government:
The role of the State government is ridiculous and a real mockery on the system. A Minister announces that the death of both father and son did not fall under the category custodial death as they did not die in the station while in lockup. In 2018 alone, NHRC has registered 147 cases as custodial deaths and 1819 cases as judicial deaths. We need to understand that in many cases, custodial violence leads to judicial deaths. There are many unregistered deaths, which are in dark statistics. When there are obvious and genuine proofs that the victims have been innocent, such comments by the government officials are unwarrantedly anti-justice and anti-people. The governments have lost the ability to govern. Yet another mockery is the game of transfers. The Chief Minister immediately announced the transfers of the officials as a punishment for such a heinous act. It is clear breach of trust of the victims and the public.
Friends of police are now foes of public:
Friends of Police was started with a noble objective of making the police as the friends of public and removing the fear that naturally sets in when relating with a police. It is a community policing initiative to support the police and to befriend the public. The friends of police of Sathankulam unit went just opposite to its nobility. They joined hands with the officials in continuously beating the father and son over night. The government shall learn that without proper and adequate training, no one should be allowed to work with the police. They become very sick with already sick police, making the ambience shattered and slaughtered. Additionally to know that they are part of fundamentalist fringe groups, it worries us a lot. Either they should be banned or they should be trained well.
Police force in need of re-training:
The incident shows that the entire police force needs a revamping and renewal in its commitment to peace and justice in the society. The inhuman torture that was meted out on both father and son is beyond human comprehension. Correctional measures have been misunderstood by many of the police persons. A hard mindset and an absolute power hover in them. Either they are unaware of global treatises against torture or they do not believe in the fundamental right to life without torture. It is time for the police trainers to include socio cultural analysis as part of their training and to make them believe that respecting human lives is far more important than respecting the power of their batons.
Ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture:
India signed the UN convention against torture on 14 October, 1997 and has not signed party to it till date. No domestic legislation has been promulgated so far. This lapse for about quarter century raises doubts on good governance. It is time for the civil society to take apt campaigns to pressurise the government to sign it so that we will be bound by the international measures to alleviate torture and appropriately support the victims of torture.
There are sick police everywhere. They need to be identified by various tests. The government has to look into their psychological well being and social concerns. Their sickness has caused the death of Jayaraj and Benicks, but both of them have awakened the hearts of many people in the world, as did George Floyd. At a time when depression and frustration surround human beings due to the tiny virus that has affected more than ten million people and killed around half a million, the inhuman murder of these two gentlemen adds fuel to the fire. Over activism of any one system in the society certainly will damage the equilibrium and peace. The over activism of police force and for that matter, even that of judiciary will only rupture the social fibre. Stemming from such over activism, police brutality and custodial torture must end and for ever, the fundamental right to life with freedom, justice and love is to be protected and preserved.
May the souls of Floyd, Jayaraj and Benicks lead us on!
(Published on 06th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 28)