Senseless deaths: On Tamil Nadu custodial deaths

Even for a country as inured to custodial violence as India, the death of a father-son duo arrested for a lockdown violation in Tamil Nadu is distressingly senseless. P. Jayaraj, 58, a timber trader, and his son, J. Benicks, 31, who ran a mobile phone service and sales centre, were arrested for allegedly keeping their outlets open after permitted hours at Sattankulam town in Thoothukudi district and remanded to judicial custody. The police claim they took ill on successive days while being lodged in a sub-jail and breathed their last in hospital. In a swift response, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, which took suo motu cognisance of their death, has decided to monitor the progress of the statutory magisterial probe. It has asked for a status report from the police and also directed that the autopsy be video-graphed. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami has announced a compensation of ₹10 lakh each, while two sub-inspectors have been suspended and an inspector placed on compulsory wait. The mere suspension of police personnel involved is an inadequate response to an incredibly wrongful abuse of authority by the law enforcement machinery. The police should register a case of murder and the matter taken over by an independent agency for a fair investigation. Custodial deaths are often the result of the pervasive use of torture in India’s police stations for extracting admissions of crime, but it is not uncommon, regrettably, for the police to use their power and authority to settle personal scores.

If the death of Jayaraj and Benicks are ultimately established as custodial murder as a result of torture or assault by the police, it would only mean that the problem is much deeper than the mere lack of professionalism in investigative methods. It might indicate a different pathology among police officials that makes them inflict violence and harm against the weak. Since the early days of the current lockdown, there have been innumerable reports, often backed by video footage, of the police and officials attacking citizens in the name of enforcing restrictions, and awarding personalised punishment on violators, and sometimes kicking and overturning carts containing items for sale. In this case, the father was thrashed even before being taken to the police station. Their offence would have only attracted Section 188 of IPC (for disobeying the time restrictions ordered by a public servant), but they were also booked under Section 383 (extortion by threat) and Section 506 (ii) (criminal intimidation). It is well known that the police include ‘intimidation’ in the FIR solely to obtain an order of remand, as it is non-bailable, if they are bent upon sending someone to jail. The inclusion of non-bailable sections for a lockdown violation indicates a perverse and prior inclination to harass the two and cause suffering. The top brass of the police too will have to bear responsibility for this atrocity as it indicates a signal failure to lay down norms for policemen on the field to handle lockdown violations with humaneness.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 9:45:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/senseless-deaths-the-hindu-editorial-on-tamil-nadu-custodial-deaths/article31917471.ece

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