Madras HC Sees Grounds for Murder Case Against Policemen in Custodial Death Case

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India urged to Ratify UN Convention Against Torture, strong law to fulfil legal obligations

Clarion India

NEW DELHI- The horrifying details of the alleged torture suffered by a father and his son at Thoothkudi police station in Tamil Nadu recently has revived the demand to have a separate legislation to deal with cases of torture, especially by police and other security agencies. It has also revived the demand for ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) which had signed in 1997 during the premiership of I.K. Gujral.

“India has since pledged several times to ratify it, including as recently as 2018. Despite two official bills which lapsed, a private member’s bill and a report by the Law Commission, the issue has not been a priority of the Central government. We wish to point out that India is among the few countries that have not ratified the CAT – 170 have, including Pakistan and China. India is in the company of 25 other nations which have not ratified,” said a statement issued on Monday by the Executive Committee (India) of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

The events following the revelation of the case point to disturbing trends. According to RJ Suchitra, the private parts of P. Jeyaraj and his son J. Bennicks were ‘smashed’ and then ‘shoved’ inside their bodies. Suchitra told India Today, “I spoke to a relative of the father-son duo and am completely heartbroken by the extent of cruelty that has happened with the two. I have come to understand that the private parts of Jeyaraj and Beniks were smashed by lathis until they became pulp and then it was shoved back inside their bodies by the police. They were told that ‘you are not men any more’.”

The policemen accused of the heinous crime are reported to have destroyed the incriminating evidences against them. A magistrate appointed by the Madras High Court to investigate the alleged custodial killing, according to press reports, has informed the court that officers of the station were not cooperating, and instead intimidating the judicial team. Because of this hostile attitude the team had to stop the inquiry mid-way.

Based on magistrate’s report, the high court has initiated contempt action against Deputy Superintendent of Police C Prathapan, Additional Deputy Superintendent of Police D Kumar and police constable Maharajan. The Tamil Nadu government Tuesday appointed two new police officers to replace the Thoothkudi Superintendent of Police, who has been shunted out, and the South Zone IG, who has retired from service.

The court also said that there are grounds to charge three policemen allegedly involved in the father-son deaths with murder based on their post-mortem reports.

The CHRI committee, which is chaired by former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, said the alleged custodial killings of Jayaraj and his son Benicks in Thoothukudi underlined the urgent need for a strong law in fulfilment of legal obligations. The two had been arrested for allegedly keeping their shops open past the permitted hours during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The CHRI executive committee said there was a need to go beyond condemning the police personnel involved and prosecute them with the full weight of the law. “The reason for the detention and death of the men — that they were keeping their stores open beyond the authorised hours — is another example of the impunity with which police and government authorities have been functioning across jurisdictions during the pandemic, where restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly and expression have been enforced arbitrarily,” the statement said.

The CHRI asked for immediate arrest of the policemen involved. It cited the National Campaign Against Torture’s report that said 1,731 people had died in custody in 2019. The report, which was issued on June 26 coincided with the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, said that total number of death count of 2019 meant every day about five people lost their lives in custody. These included 1,606 deaths in judicial custody and 125 deaths in police custody.

“Out of the 125 deaths in police custody, 75 persons or 60% belonged to the poor and marginalised communities. These included 13 victims from Dalit and tribal communities, 15 victims belonged to Muslim minority community, 37 victims were picked up for petty crimes such as theft/ burglary/ cheating/ selling of liquor illegally, gambling, etc which indicate their economic status, three were farmers, one was labourer, one was a refugee, two were security guards, one was a rag-picker and two worked as drivers,” the report said.

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