TN Custodial Deaths: Magistrate Report Cites Blood-Stained Lathis

Jeyaraj and his son Beniks were arrested for keeping their shop open beyond the permitted hours during the lockdown.

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India
6 min read
The custodial death of two men in Tamil Nadu’s Sathankulam has sparked massive outrage over police brutality.
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Jeyaraj and Beniks were beaten through the night of 19 June that the lathis (batons) and tables had blood stains on them.

A three-page report, submitted by Kovilpatti Magistrate MS Bharathidasan to the Registrar of the Madras High Court, has revealed shocking details of the death of Jeyaraj and Beniks in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi.

A woman head constable, one of the key eyewitnesses in the case, is the only person from the Sathankulam police station who has willingly stated what happened on the night of 19 June.

Jeyaraj and his son Beniks were arrested for keeping their mobile phone shop open beyond the permitted hours during the lockdown. 31-year-old Beniks died on 22 June and his father 58-year-old Jeyaraj died early next day. The two men were allegedly brutally beaten up in custody by the policemen.

On 28 June, the magistrate spent over 15 hours in the Sathankulam station to record the statements of the police officials and to gather evidence.

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday said it has sought a report from the Director General of Police (DGP) of Tamil Nadu and Superintendent of Police (SP) of Thoothukudi district, which has to "include inquest report, post-mortem examination report, medical treatment record, magisterial enquiry report and health screening report of both victims, within six weeks".

The CB-CID have already begun meeting family members and enquiring at shops near APG mobiles which was owned by the father and son.

'Police Interfering With Inquiry'

The Quint has accessed the report submitted by the Magistrate, which states that the constable was reportedly afraid to divulge details of what happened and asked for assurance of security.

She had asked the magistrate to protect her identity and had even stated that she was afraid that she could be harmed by police officials who could be eavesdropping while she explained the ordeal. The magistrate had ordered for two court employees to be stationed outside the room to protect her.

She narrated how Jeyaraj and Beniks were beaten up all night that there were blood stains on the lathis and the table.

She urged the magistrate to confiscate the objects immediately as some police personnel were allegedly trying to destroy the blood-stained evidence.

The magistrate said that despite all measures the police officials did try to intimidate the witnesses, creating a disruptive environment.

Cop Jumps the Compound Wall Refusing to Produce Lathi

The report stated that when the magistrate had asked the police officers to produce their lathis, initially they acted like they didn’t hear him and were very disrespectful.

“A police officer named Maharaja then said, ‘You can’t do anything,’ in a very derogatory manner,” said the magistrate.

“When I asked for his lathi he initially said that it was in his hometown, then he said it was in the police quarters. Then he kept walking in all directions, spoke to me disrespectfully and said he does not have a lathi at all.”
Kovilpatti Magistrate in his report

When another police officer was asked to produce his lathi, he jumped over the compound and escaped from the police station.

Recounting the night of 19 June, Beniks’ uncle Edward told The Quint, “I was standing outside the station and they had shut the main gate. There was a mirror inside the station and in the reflection I saw Beniks, half naked being hit brutally with the lathis.

”‘Remove his lungi. Remove his underwear...’ I heard them shouting from inside the police station.”
Edward, Benik’s Uncle

No CCTV Footage Available From Police Station

When the magistrate attempted to acquire the CCTV footage, a systems officer from the district court was brought to the station. They found no video data evidence from 19 June.

“The CCTV hard disc was examined in the presence of the systems officer and it was found that even though the disc had enough storage space (1 TB), it was set in such a manner that data was auto-erased on a daily basis,” said the magistrate.

The magistrate had also stated that since the time he entered the station for the inquiry, the police officials were disrespectful and tried to intimidate him on several accounts. Both the ADSP D Kumar and DSP Prathapan failed to even acknowledge his presence. He said the policemen in the station were taking videos and threatening the court officers.

The magistrate had shifted his camp office to Tiruchendur guest house, for recording statements on Monday. He had recorded statements of 12 persons, including family and friends of Beniks' — three sisters of Beniks' and their husbands, his mother Selvarani, advocate Manimaran and Rajaram.

'Blood Clots, Battered Backside'

Family members told The Quint that they were quite pleased with the way in which the magistrate has dealt with the evidence.

The Kovilpatti magistrate had told us - ‘I have no association with the Sathankulam magistrate and have no reason to save him. I will ensure that I speak the truth. So please cooperate and tell me everything that has happened.’
Edward, Benik’s Uncle

The family also insisted that the police officials who have erred should be strictly punished and those who had nothing to do with the incident should be extended security.

“Thaveethu (one of the witnesses during the examination in the mortuary) had come out and told us that the magistrate meticulously examined all the wounds and double-checked if the wounds were fresh or old. They had observed that the frontal area and thighs of Jeyaraj were badly hurt," he added.

The magistrate had examined the deceased in the mortuary in the presence of Jeyaraj’s sons-in-law Ponsekar and Vinod Kumar, brother-in-law Thaveethu and the advocate Rajadurai.

Advocate Rajaduri explained that the injury marks on their bodies revealed they were brutally tortured.

“A blood clot on the fingernail on the right hand and hit marks on the bottom of the feet was observed,” he said.

Family members told The Quint that the Beniks' backside was "battered" and bore evident marks of the lathi that “it seemed like the buttocks was not even existent.”

Advocate Rajadurai demanded a fair probe as this was “a clear violation on humanitarian grounds.”

The Quint got clarification that there was no evidence that lathis were ‘shoved inside their butts’ as alleged by many. However, a source confirmed that samples were sent for testing to the forensic team. When The Quint reached out to the head of the Sathankulam Government hospital, he refused to speak to media as the matter was subjudice.

‘Cops Behaved Like Psychos’: Victims’ Family

Speaking to The Quint, close friends and family members of the duo that "it has been days since they ate a decent meal or had a good night's sleep because their shrieks keep them awake."

While they are grateful for all the support they have received from across the country, they want to ensure that justice is served for the brutality meted out to them.

Edward recounts getting a call from Beniks’ friends on 19 June, when he rushed to the police station.

He said he made a number of calls to the inspector requesting him to let them go.

“Initially the inspector had told that the sub-inspectors were very angry with them as Beniks had apparently tried to raise his hand against the cops. And so they were very angry. He assured he will convince them and went inside the station,” he said.

At around 10 pm, an official had come out of the police station and told that they will be arrested and that everyone will need to dispersed, he added.

“If they had filed a petty case against them, I would have taken them to a hospital, put a few bottles of glucose in them and taken them home. These are men who’ve never even gone near a police station. They are not used to this.”
Edward, Benik’s Uncle

“These police officers have behaved like psychos. If a official in the lower cadre is misbehaving, the higher officials should correct them. Since the lockdown began, there have been several unjust incidents that has happened in this station. And no action has been taken so far,” he said.

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