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The Custodial Death of Jayaraj & Fenix : What Happened With Them Is Nothing But Barbaric

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According to the Oxford dictionary, the term torture means “The action or practise of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something”, but what happened to Jayaraj and his son Fenix last week was barbaric.

The father-son duo was mercilessly killed in police custody for keeping their mobile shop open during the allowed hours (till 7:30 pm, according to @mirchi_suchi on Instagram). Their death has sparked the debate of police brutality and an extent to which the law enforcement are allowed to inflict atrocities upon the general public. Social media is flooded with #Justiceforjayarajandfenix demanding the immediate arrest of the officers involved in the alleged torture and subsequent murder of the two men. There are two versions of the arrest; one narrated by the police and the other told by the eye-witnesses.

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According to the eye-witnesses

On 19 June 2020, 58 years old P. Jayaraj was in his woodworks shop at Sathankulam town of Tuticorin district when a police constable picked him up from the spot and took him to the local police station where he was allegedly tortured, as reported by The News Minute. The previous day, an alleged altercation broke out between the two in that area for some unknown reasons. The same night around 8 PM, Fenix’s friends informed him about Jayaraj’s arrest making the 38-year-old furious and he along with his friends rushed to the Sathankulam police station. The police made him wait for several hours and finally let him talk with the officials regarding his father’s arrest. As he inquired about the issue, the police attacked him and put him in the chamber. The friends who accompanied him were not allowed to meet the father-son duo. They have told that the duo was tortured so gravely that they heard their screams for more than three hours and the people residing as far as 500 metres away from the station could hear their cries.   

According to the police

In an FIR written by sub-inspector P. Raghuganesh, the police narrated a different story about the arrest. According to the FIR, the duo along with some of their friends were present in the Fenix’s mobile store when the head constable S. Murugan and constable Muthuraj were on their patrolling duty in that area where they found the mobile store to be still open at 9:15 pm, exceeding the lockdown limit by 15 minutes. The FIR further stated, “Jayaraj, his son Fenix and a few other friends were standing outside the shop. We told them to disperse. While others went away, Jayaraj and Fenix sat on the ground and abused us badly”. FIR even read that the two “rolled on the ground” and in this action, they “suffered internal injuries”. It further added that the duo threatened to beat and kill the police officers on duty if they compelled them to shut the store. They arrested the two and booked them under IPC Section 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), Section 353 (use of force to deter public servant), Section 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and Section 506(2) (Punishment for criminal intimation). According to The Times of India, on June 20 2020, the police took them to a local hospital for a mandatory checkup to present them before the magistrate. The two were allegedly unfit and required serious medical treatment for the injuries they suffered at the hands of the police but the hospital discharged them. The Sathankulam District Magistrate mechanically gave the remand order without even physically examining them.

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Protectors becoming the tormentors 

According to Fenix’s sister Percy, the police had tortured her brother and father. Here, the definition of torture is stripping the accused naked and thrashing them with batons so much so that it crushes the bones and rips the flesh off the back, thighs and genitals.

According to Chennai based news portal, The Federal, Fenix’s lawyer Advocate S. Manimaran who saw the gruesome torture told that the victim’s rectum was bleeding and even claimed the victims to be sexually assaulted. In fact, he also added, there was so much blood oozing from all over the body that their blood-soaked clothes were changed four times. Even the eyewitnesses from the hospital described the same hounding physical state. After receiving the remand orders from the magistrate, they were taken to Kovilpatti sub-jail which is 100 Km away from Sathankulam, which is questionable as they could have taken them to a nearby jail within 10 km distance. Two days later on June 22 2020, Fenix died at the Kovilpatti Government Hospital and the next morning on June 23 2020, Jayaraj. The reasons for their deaths have been stated to be heart failure and fever. Their family was informed about their demise the same afternoon.

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As the news of their deaths spread in the town of Sathankulam, the local residents and the shopkeepers staged a dharna to express outrage alleging the death to be a state-sponsored killing. The next day on June 24 2020, all the shops in that area were shut to mourn the two victims. The same day Madurai Bench of High Court took suo motu cognizance of the matter and directed Superintendent of Police, Thootukudi to investigate the matter and submit the status report.

The Bench headed by Justices PM Prakash and B. Pugalenthi ordered the SP to submit the jail records, CCTV footage, postmortem report and video of the doctors carrying out the autopsy procedure by Friday, 26 June. However, SP failed to submit the report citing the lockdown restriction and hence, the report is to be submitted on June 30.

Thoothukudi Police, on the other hand, suspended two sub-inspectors named Balakrishnan and P. Raghuganesh while also claiming to take disciplinary action against S. Murugan and Muthuraj who were patrolling on 19 June 2020.  Also, inspector Sridhar was transferred to a waiting list.

But, the family demands murder trial on the accused cops under IPC Section 302. Many people on social media have been demanding strict action against the perpetrators rather than convenient suspensions and transfers. Meanwhile, the state government has given the family a compensation of 10 Lakh rupees.

According to a report by NGO against custodial torture, 1731 people died in India during Police Interrogations in 2019. Use of physical violence by the police during the investigation has been normalized in India. This lockdown period has witnessed several instances of police brutality all over India but hardly any news portal gave it serious coverage.

In 1997, India was one of the 83 countries which signed United Nations Convention against Torture which prohibits torture of any kind to an individual under arrest or detention and requires them to educate their law enforcement personnel, civilians, medical personnel regarding adhering to the provisions under this treaty. Sadly, India hasn’t ratified the terms even after so many years.

Since many Indians have given voice to the Black Lives Matter movement in America, it will be interesting to note whether this issue will become a talking point especially in North India or will become just another South Indian issue ignored by the masses.

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