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Another case of custodial death has come to light in Sathankulam town, Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu where a father-son duo succumbed to death reportedly due to police brutality, causing a furore in the state.

What led to the arrest?

June 19, 2020: According to the locals, Jayaraj and his son, Bennicks were booked by the police on patrol duty for running their mobile accessories shop named APJ, in Santhankulam town, beyond the permitted time, followed by altercations between the parties. They were booked under Section 269 and Section 353 for negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life and use of force to deter public servant from duty, respectively.

June 20, 2020: The duo was produced before the Judicial Magistrate and lodged in Kovilpatti sub-jail in judicial custody, where the prison guards witnessed injuries on their bodies, especially on the knees and buttocks.

June 22, 2020: The son, Bennicks died soon after he was sent to Kovilpatti General Hospital in the evening, on account of chest pain. The father, Jayaraj also fell severely ill at night, leading to his death the next morning.

Allegation on police personnel

The wife of Jayaraj had lodged a complaint to the District Criminal Court and Assistant Commissioner alleging custodial violence, use of abusive language, and sexual assault resulting in the deaths of the bread earning members of her family, demanding the suspension and arrest of the police personnel involved in the murder.

The other family members and friends also claimed that the victims were bleeding through their rectums and their clothes were torn when they were released from jail in a tousled state.

Friends of Bennicks reportedly informed a news agency that the noise of the police officers abusing the victims and their cry for help was heard even by the persons residing in the vicinity of the police station.

The traders in Santhankulam town, functionaries of political parties, activists, and local public, protested against the death of their fellow traders and had also shut down shops in the district on June 24. They insisted on the transfer of the case to CBI and compensation for the kin of the deceased.

Reactions of the authorities

Various members of parliaments and party leaders expressed concern in regard to the issue, requiring the State Government to take suitable action against the police personnel responsible for these brutal killings.

The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi K Palanisami vowed that strict legal action will be taken against the killings, in adherence to order of the Madras High Court. He declared Rs. 10 lakhs as compensation to the family of the deceased and government job to the kin of the deceased.

The District Collector, Sandeep Nanduri, notified that the two sub-inspectors responsible for the alleged custodial deaths of the father-son duo have been placed under suspension, the inspector of the police station has been kept in waiting and the remaining team of the Santhankulam police station has been transferred. Additionally, the Superintendent of Police submitted that action has been taken against two head constables of the Santhalkulam station.

The District Magistrate, Kovilpatti has also ordered inquest at the Tirunelveli Medical College and Hospital, where the bodies of the victims are kept.

Order of the Madras High Court

A Division Bench of Madras High Court at Madurai, constituting Justice PM Prakash and Justice B. Pulagendhi, directed the Superintendent of Police, Tuticorin, to furnish a status report by June 26, 2020, concerning the deaths of the Santhalkulam traders.

The Court also ordered the Tirunelveli District Administration to provide necessary infrastructure and support to the Judicial Magistrate, Kovilpatti, for conducting the inquest, which will be followed by a post mortem. The post mortem shall be conducted by a team of three experts and should be video graphed.

Moreover, it was instructed that a copy of the inquest report and post-mortem report shall be sent to the Registrar (Judicial) of the Madurai Bench.

Observing the rampant spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Court refrained from relaxing the social distancing norms prescribed by the Government for funerals of the victims.

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