The pandemic, quarantine and lockdown have given an opportunity to all undemocratic and authoritarian regimes to unleash police brutality on innocent citizens, arrest and hound journalists, dissenters, students, human rights activists and peaceful protesters under draconian laws such as UAPA and sedition, clampdown on data and information while patronizing pro-establishment journalism, fake news, hate politics and polarizing propaganda, ignore the relentless suffering of millions of migrant workers and jobless citizens, including in the middle class professions, and unleash infinite injustice as a direct message that keep your mouth shut or you will face the consequences.
With the Opposition scattered, subdued or not bothered, with only some leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Sitaram Yechuri protesting and dissenting openly, and little avenues of mass protest, and with much of the justice system apparently toeing the ruling regime’s line, the so-called largest democracy and its secular, plural and egalitarian Constitution is under grave danger and great stress. Never before has India witnessed this kind of relentless onslaught on fundamental rights with communal fissures and social polarization as a trump card being played as a daily ritual of ‘maximum governance’. If there is anything truly ‘Made in India’ it is this ‘Desperate Emergency’ as a senior journalist pointed out, or as many artists, academics, filmmakers and journalists marked as a protest on June 25 this year, remembering the Emergency under Indira Gandhi, as a new form of ‘Super Emergency’.
The rule of law and process of justice has been canned into the brutality of relentless hounding, arrests, beatings, torture, and as in Tuticorin, bloody murder, enacted for an entire horrible night, inside a police station, then outside and inside a court (Kangaroo court?), and then in the hospital.
It is in this context, be it the Delhi police, or the UP police, under the BJP government, or the Tamil Nadu police under a government backed by the Centre, they all seem to be running amok. The rule of law and the process of justice for ordinary citizens has been canned into the brutality of relentless hounding, arrests, beatings, torture, and as in Tuticorin, bloody murder, enacted for an entire horrible night, inside a police station, then outside and inside a court (Kangaroo court?), and then in the hospital. In between two human beings were smashed into pulp while they screamed all night for the entire neighbourhood to hear, and while many lungis were changed because they were allegedly sodomised and police batons thrust into their rectums, and while blood flowed all over the place from the police station to the court premises and to the hospital where they finally died.
Indeed, such brutal and inhuman behavior from the Tuticorin police is not an aberration. The city has a long history of police atrocities, including the cold-blooded murder of 13 people, by the cops and invisible snipers – Isreaeli style – in the summer of May 2018. This reporter covered the aftermath of the killings, and was witness to the mass terror and mass atrocities, door to door, home to home, and midnight knocks and arrests unleashed by the police against the citizens and youngsters who were protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelting plant, which had inflicted widespread health damages to the bodies of people, ravaged the environment and which had turned drinking water into a filthy yellow toxic poisonous liquid. Clearly, the cops then seemed to be directly taking orders from Vedanta, with the state government and the Centre as accomplices.
In the evening of June 18, 2020, the police came to the mobile shop of P Jayaraj and his son Bennicks in Tuticorin and threatened them to shut the shop. They still had time before the curfew deadline. The police left the shop thereby. Next day, on June 19, at about 7.30 pm, according to reliable sources, Head Constable S Murugan and Constable Muthuraj came again and assaulted Jayaraj. Bennicks intervened. Consequently, both were beaten up.
Then the ordeal started, and for the entire night, and spilled into the next day and after. The blood kept flowing.
They were tortured all night reportedly under specific instructions from Inspector Sridhar and Sub Inspectors Balakrishnan and Paul Durai and other constables Jesuraj, Velumuthu etc, according to human rights activists. They were not officially arrested and no one knows why were being kept in custody and for what crime.
After the all-night savage physical assault and mental torture, they were booked under alleged offences under Section 188, 269, 294(b) 353 and 506(II) of IPC in Crime No.312 of 2020 on the file of Sattankulam Police Station dated 19.06.2020, as declared by the press statement of People’s Watch, a respected human rights organization with headquarters in Madurai and led by eminent lawyer Henri Tiphagne.
Bennicks mother later came to know that they were on remand but were not produced before the court. Why? And why did the court allow the police version without even apparently seeing the brutalized father and son?
The Tuticorin police has blood on its hands. Earlier in May 2018 when people were peacefully protesting in thousands outside the collector’s office after a prolonged and non-violent movement against Vedanta’s Sterlite, 13 people, including activists and a school girl, Snowlin, were killed by police and sniper bullets. Most of them did not see their killers.
They were not physically produced before the Judicial Magistrate, Sattankulam. Her son and husband were reportedly kept in a van at the time of remand contrary to the procedural law that is to be followed at the time of first remand, according to People’s Watch. The human rights organization has said that “the learned Judicial Magistrate had also not made any enquiry with the accused as mandated in the criminal procedure before passing the order of remand. The victim (mother) later came to know that her son and her husband were remanded to judicial custody on 20.06.2020 at about 2.30 pm. Afterwards, her husband was taken to the Kovilpatti Government Hospital for medical treatment following body pain. On 23.06.2020 her husband died at the hospital. To her great shock her son was taken to hospital on 22.06.2020 and he also died on 23.06.2020”.
In a petition to the Tamil Nadu Human Rights Commission, Tiphagne has written that among other urgent interventions, immediate action should be taken against the Judicial Magistrate of Sattankulam for “the illegal manner of remanding both the accused without seeing them in person, without recording their injuries and not referring them for medical treatment to a hospital”. Inspector Sridhar, Sub Inspectors Balakrishnan and Paul Durai and Head Constable S Murugan and Constables Muthuraj, Jesuraj, Velumuthu etc and all police officers of Sattankulam who are responsible for the torture and custodial death of the father should face due punishment under the law. The post-mortem in the two cases should be conducted by a team of three forensic experts headed by a senior professor of forensic medicine drawn from three different district medical colleges. And that the enquiry under 176 (i) (A) Cr.P.C “should not be entrusted to the Judicial Magistrate, Sattankulam under any circumstances”. The relatives of the deceased should first be allowed to see the two bodies, record the injuries, take photographs of the bodies before the body is handed over for post-mortem.
The entire city and communities came out in Tuticorin to pay homage to the funeral procession of the father and son, throwing flowers at the van which carried their tortured bodies. There have been protests in the city and across all districts of Tamil Nadu led by civil society groups, women’s organizations and the CPM. State secretary of CPM Balakrishnan was arrested while peacefully protesting. Tuticorin MP and DMK leader Kanimozhi visited the family in solidarity and reportedly gave Rs 25 lakh to them. She has also written an official complaint to the National Human Rights Commission.
If there is anything truly ‘Made in India’ it is this ‘Desperate Emergency’ as a senior journalist pointed out, or as many artists, academics, filmmakers and journalists marked as a protest on June 25 this year, remembering the Emergency under Indira Gandhi, as a new form of ‘Super Emergency’.
“It is alleged that while police were assaulting Mr Jayaraj and Mr Bennicks in the guise of investigation, the police officials had inserted a baton into the anus of Mr Bennicks that had triggered uncontrolled bleeding and further the police officials had beaten Mr Jayaraj and had kicked him on his chest multiple times with their shoes,” she has written.
Indeed, the Tuticorin police has blood on its hands. Earlier in May 2018 when people were peacefully protesting in thousands outside the collector’s office after a prolonged and non-violent movement against Vedanta’s Sterlite, 13 people, including activists and a school girl, Snowlin, were killed by police and sniper bullets. Most of them did not see their killers. One of them in a yellow T-shirt was seen atop a police vehicle firing. This was clearly a repeat of what Israeli snipers do routinely with peaceful or stone-throwing Palestinian people.
Soon after, the police ransacked homes and beat up children, women, all over. Midnight raids were conducted and young boys were picked up. People were beaten up and arrested randomly. This reporter witnessed stories from scores of families listing how they were tortured and assaulted for hours in police stations. In the funeral procession of Snowlin, thousands of people participated, but there was not a single cop, so widespread was the outrage and sorrow.
Till this day not a single cop has been arrested for these murders. Even now people will show the white patches on their bodies due to pollution by the Sterlite industry, and how the water remains toxic and poisonous. The wounds are still simmering in the soul and bodies of the people of Tuticorin. The macabre murders of the father and son has only added to the angst and anger against a police force which has once again run amok, knowing fully well that there is no impunity and finally they will be protected by the powers that be, as it happened after the killings and mass assaults on peaceful citizens in the summer of 2018.