The lockdown in force in Tamil Nadu to contain the spread of Covid-19 cases has virtually given licence to the police to do as they please and the elite commando force of the State police, known for its agility and speed, has been deputed as an additional force wherever required.
Jayaraj, a timber merchant in Sattankulam, Thoothukudi district, closed his business for the day without pulling down the shutters of his shop and waited for his son Fennix, 31, who was running a mobile shop nearby, to take him home, shortly after 8 pm on 18 June. That was his normal routine during these days of lockdown restrictions.
Sub-inspector of police Balakrishnan, head constable Murugan and constable Muthuraj, patrolling the street, stopped by and asked Jayaraj why his shop was still open. He explained that he was waiting for his son who reached the spot just then. The police party abused the father and son for violating rules and angry exchanges followed.
Next day, the two were summoned to appear before the police station which the two did only to be brought home as dead bodies three days later. The two were brutally attacked inside the police station and charged under IPC 188, 269, 294, 353 and 506 for violating lockdown restrictions and allegedly misbehaving with onduty police personnel.
Without producing the two before a magistrate, the police got them remanded in judicial custody. Avoiding the local jail, the police got them admitted in Kovilpatti sub-jail on 20 June. The two succumbed to injuries inflicted on them at the police station one after the other on 22 and 23 June.
The gruesome murder of the father and son did not escape attention of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. Taking suo motu cognizance of the twin deaths due to police excesses, a Division Bench comprising Justices PN Prakash and B Pugalendhi directed the jurisdictional judicial magistrate to conduct an enquiry into the custodial deaths of the father and son who were lodged in Kovilpatti sub-jail in Thoothukudi district.
The Bench asked the magistrate to take a photocopy of the case diary for safe custody. The Bench also ordered the Tamil Nadu police to submit a report on its probe into the incident and directed that autopsy of the deceased be videographed.
Following the custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Fennix, the Director General of Police on 24 June issued fresh guidelines (Standard Operating Procedures) for arrest/remand of accused persons. While appreciating the efforts of the DGP, the court made it clear that the SOP should not remain on paper only, but should be implemented in letter and spirit.
“In this regard, we suggest the Police Department engage the services of counsellors and NGOs for providing counselling to police personnel and their family members during the testing period,” the court ruled.