(This article was originally published on 28 June 2020 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives on the first death anniversary of Jeyaraj and Beniks.)
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“Their cries weren’t heard just by us standing outside, but the entire town.”Manimaran, Jayaraj’s Friend
“Imagine, if a man doesn’t even have his front and backside. That is how my brother looked when his friends saw his dead body.”Beniks’ Sister
“I didn’t have the heart to go inside and see him. My friends saw how he was soaked in blood. And in the end they just killed them brutally.”Beniks’ Sister
Family and friends of 58-year-old Jeyaraj and his 31-year-old son Emmanuel Beniks are furious, shocked and distraught, unable to believe that the two are no more.
The custodial death of the two men in Tamil Nadu’s Sathankulam town in Thoothukudi district has sparked massive outrage in the state over police brutality.
Questions are also being raised on the conduct of the sub-inspectors and all officials present at the police station during the incident as well as that of Sathankulam Judicial Magistrate B Saravanan.
Tuticorin SP has confirmed that Sathankulam police Inspector Sridhar has been suspended from duty.
'Took Turns Hitting Them’
Alleging that police brutality led to their death, a person claiming to be an eye witnesses described to The Quint what transpired at the Sathankulam police station.
On 18 June, policemen on patrol had warned stern action against Jeyaraj and his son as they had kept their shop open beyond the stipulated timings as dictated by the state government during the lockdown. The two immediately shut shop and returned to their home.
The next day, at around 7.45 pm SI Balakrishnan along with a few personnel had gone to the shop to question Jeyaraj, friends of the duo told The Quint. The two got into a verbal argument after which the police made him get into the police van.
Beniks who was also inside the shop with a friend was alerted by the people around, who then rushed to question the cops. He was told to come directly to the police station for further clarification, said an ‘eyewitness’.
Upon reaching the police station, Benny, as Beniks is fondly called by his friends, rushed inside along with over five of his long-time friends to demand an explanation.
“One cop instructed that all of us be put on remand. When Benny asked them why his father was arrested, I quickly dragged him out to avoid any scuffle. By then, a cop was heard asking Benny to be brought inside. And we were all made to stand outside the station,” Rajesh* (name changed) said.
“The cop had stepped forward to hit him. Benny immediately stepped aside and then the cop chased him around the table. I was standing there watching all this. I was then pushed outside. There were three other advocates waiting outside the station, along with all his friends. The police then took turns to hit them. It was almost midnight when it stopped and then we were made to leave,” said Manimaran, Jayaraj’s Friend
"Their knees were hit extremely badly with the lathis,” said a friend.
“They hit Benny’s bottom repeatedly with the lathi that he began bleeding. When his father told the cops to stop, they did the same to him. The two were bleeding profusely from everywhere.”Beniks’ Friend
‘Blood-Soaked by Morning’
A few people present at that time stated that on the next day at around 7 am the duo were taken to the hospital. The police officials had asked them to get a change of clothes as the clothes they were wearing were visibly soaked in blood, said a friend. They got them a cup of coffee and vadai too and were shocked to find the two were unable to even speak properly.
“When we saw the two, they were dripping with blood and badly hurt. Their clothes were soaked in blood. Then at the hospital, they were questioned by a couple of cops. They didn’t even have the energy to speak up. We had put a blanket on the seat where they were sitting so that they don’t slip away with all the blood. We were sure we would get bail in a day. But before any of that happened, both of them were dead,” said Manimaran.
A close friend narrated how they waited for over three hours because both Beniks and Jeyaraj were having high blood pressure and they couldn’t be produced in front of the judicial magistrate in that state.
Judicial Magistrate Faces Flak
Friends, family members and advocates have alleged that when Sathankulam police approached B Saravanan for remanding Jayaraj and Beniks, the magistrate automatically gave the remand order without physically examining the accused.
The magistrate is supposed to ask the person if he had any internal or external injuries to verify if he was mistreated in police custody.
“How will he see? During this coronavirus pandemic, the judge sees his cases in his portico standing 10 feet away from him. He won’t be able to examine their physical condition. Also, there were a few cops standing around them,” said Manimaran.
‘How Can I Describe The Brutality?’
The police remanded them at the Kovilpatti sub-jail. On 22 June, Beniks had complained of chest pain and was taken to a government hospital where he succumbed to death by night. His father passed away early next morning.
“Do you know we were going to get them out on bail by the next day. All arrangements were made because the case filed against them was not very severe. By Wednesday, at most the two would have been back home. But they made them just go away forever!,” said a friend, breaking down.
Speaking to reporters, Beniks’ sister Persis confirmed that the two were brutally beaten up, based on what her family members saw upon receiving their dead bodies for burial.
“They tortured them so bad. I am a girl, his sister, how can I describe this? I have not been able to even explain the details to my mother.”Persis, Beniks’ Sister
She expressed absolute shock at how the police could inflict such torture upon them when they had not committed any crime.
The family had initially refused to take the bodies and only after the court took cognisance of the case did the family agree to take them for the funeral. Hundreds of people staged a dharna on Tuesday and shops in the district were shut down on Wednesday in protest.
“There are so many criminals out there who are still alive. Benny was such a good man, would never look at even a woman with the wrong intentions. I’ve known his father for years and he is such a good man,” said Manimaran.
Discrepancies in the FIR
A First Information Report (FIR) was filed on 19 June at 9.15 pm.
Sub-inspector Ragu Ganesh of Sathankulam police station signed the FIR which was drafted based on the complaint received at 9.15 pm by S Murugan, Head Constable of the station.
“The APG mobile shop was open beyond the timings stipulated by the state government. When the police questioned them, the father and son sat on the road, rolled on the ground, used expletives and through this, they sustained a few internal injuries,” read the FIR.
Friends of the duo who were at the shop when the police had picked up Jeyaraj contested this and alleged that it was Sub-Inspector Balakrishnan who had arrested him in the first place.
“At 7.45 pm the cops had come to the location. By 7.50 pm, we were following the police van to the station and by 8 pm everything was happening in the station. The FIR was supposedly filed at 9.15 pm for keeping their shop open that late in the night. But in fact, at that time, both of them were being thrashed inside the station,” alleged a friend who claims to have witnessed the entire ordeal.
“SI Balakrishnan was the one who brought him to the station and Ragu Ganesh, who has signed the letter, had joined in the thrashing by 9 pm.”Beniks’ Friend
HC Orders Probe
The Madras High Court has sought a report from the Tamil Nadu police on its probe into the twin custodial deaths.
A Madurai bench of the high court, comprising Justices P N Prakash and B Pugalendhi, took serious view of the incident and instructed police to inform the public about the suo motu cognisance the court has taken of the deaths.The bench said the public must be given an assurance that the court was monitoring the issue.
“We consider this very seriously. As part of a fair and transparent inquiry, we have placed the two sub-inspectors and constables under suspension and the inspector has been transferred.”Arun Balagopalan, Superintendent, Thoothukudi to The Quint
Madurai bench of Madras High Court on Friday asked Kovilpatti judicial magistrate to visit the jail, gather administrative, medical records and CCTV footage related to the case. The court postponed the case to 30 June.
“This was not the work of one man. The judge, the doctor and everyone in that police station (need to be probed). We don’t even know where all the torture happened. I want an FIR filed against all of them and strict action taken. Can a normal man do this and get away? So how can the police do this?” she asked.
“Tell them to return my father and brother’s lives back? I need justice.”Beniks’ sister
A top police official also stated that the suspension was only first step taken by the police and that an inquiry into the matter will ensure that the offenders are punished appropriately.
Another official also acknowledged that there are a few discrepancies in the FIR which will be investigated in the judicial inquiry.
Thoothukudi District Collector Sandheep Nanduri said that all police officials in the station will be suspended or transferred and the issue is being dealt with seriously. They are looking into offering a government job and assistance for the family as well.
Opposition leader and DMK president MK Stalin has demanded that the chief minister should take responsibility for the “lock up murder in judicial custody” and that the concerned police personnel should be punished.
Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi wrote a complaint to Director General of Police calling this a serious violation of human rights and demanded stringent action against the policemen. She has given the family a compensation of Rs 25 lakhs. AIADMK has also announced Rs 25 lakh ex-gratia.
Several people took to social media to reveal the gory details of the attack and demanded justice.
“I remember how a cop at the station had shouted at them saying - Just kill them!,” Manimaran alleged, appealing to the media and the public to stand together in this fight for justice.