Institutionalised brutality

Tamil Nadu custodial deaths a blot on police, judiciary

Institutionalised brutality

Photo for representational purpose only

Unlike in the US, police atrocities in India do not have exclusive racial underpinnings. Indian policemen, when they turn rogue, become dangerous criminals and murderers in uniform who torture the meek and bully the powerless with impunity; caste and community notwithstanding. The fate of Jayaraj and his son J Fennix of the port town of Tuticorin in southern Tamil Nadu was far worse than that of George Floyd of Minneapolis. The father was picked up for allegedly violating the Covid curfew and soon the son too, and both were beaten up on June 19 at the Sathankulam police station. According to certain accounts, their knees were smashed and they were anally raped with steel-tipped batons. The son died on June 22 and the father the next day, while both were in judicial custody.

Apart from police brutality, what turns the Jayaraj-Fennix murder case into a cause for national outrage is the role of the judiciary in sending the battered men to jail and their subsequent death. It is the responsibility of the magistrate to ensure that no custodial torture happens and to censure the cops if there is an iota of doubt about misconduct. Here, both the accused could not stand and were profusely bleeding from their posterior, yet the magistrate remanded them in custody. The government has transferred the case to the CBI and suspended the two Sub-Inspectors, Balakrishnan and Raghuganesan, and Inspector Sridhar of Sathankulam police station. That is not enough. The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, which took suo motu notice of the case, should initiate proceedings against the magistrate.

The state has a monopoly on violence and hence it is always important to examine the social dimensions of an ugly exhibition of state power such as this. Of the two Sub-Inspectors, one is a Dalit and the other is from a backward caste, whereas the victims belong to the economically and socially dominant (though OBC) Nadar Christian community. Unless there is an underlying religious subplot to this custodial murder, the act of injustice seems a reflection of institutionalised brutality of a police state, which got aggravated during the lockdown that made cops power-drunk.

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