The death of a father and son near Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu due to alleged brutalities by the police has led to public outcry in the state and across the country.
The Madras High Court had taken suo motu cognizance of the case and a judicial inquiry is in progress. From civil society members and activists, to political parties and celebrities, several have stood in solidarity to demand justice for the death of the father-son duo.
Here is a look at the series of events that led to the arrest of the father and son, the action taken against the cops involved and who said what:
62-year-old P Jayaraj, who owned a mobile shop in Sathankulam town near Thoothukudi (erstwhile Tuticorin), was arrested by a police team on June 19. He had allegedly made some critical remarks against the cops for insisting shop owners to shut their shops in line with the coronavirus-driven lockdown rules.
Jeyaraj’s son, J Fenix, 32, had followed his father to the police station, where he allegedly saw his father being thrashed by a police officer. When Fenix tried to intervene, it provoked the officers even more, and both the son and father were beaten up for hours.
An officer told The Indian Express, “There were two sub-inspectors and two constables in the torture team. A total of 13 officers were there at the station during the incident.”
The next day, i.e. on June 20, when the two were taken to a government hospital, both of them were bleeding profusely. After three hours at the hospital, they were taken to the Sathankulam Magistrate Court, where a magistrate remanded them in custody in Kovilpatti Sub Jail in a span of a few minutes.
Due to profuse bleeding, and severe internal and external injuries, Fenix died late in the evening of June 22, while Jayaraj died in the wee hours of June 23.
It is to be noted here that if Jeyaraj had indeed violated lockdown norms, then the maximum punishment handed out to him would have been three months imprisonment.
What action has been taken?
Following the outrage on the incident, four police officers, including two sub-inspectors, have been suspended. The station inspector has been transferred.
Two FIRs (First Information Reports) have been filed; however, no officer has been booked for murder.
The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter on June 24, directing the police to a file a report.
The post-mortem report has been submitted to the court in a sealed envelope.
On June 28, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami said the state government has decided to transfer the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The chief minister had earlier announced a solatium of Rs 10 lakh each to their families and government jobs to a family member of each deceased.
DMK’s Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi had also declared a compensation of Rs 25 lakh for the family.
The news of the incident spread like wildfire after reports of the brutalities committed against the two emerged.
According to a report in India Today, both Jayaraj and Fenix were beaten mercilessly and bleeding profusely.
Their advocate S Manimaran told the publication, “I gave them four clothes to change. We had laid down a blanket in the seat of the car when we went to pick them up. Fenix had lost a lot of flesh on his back. He was a well-built man. The car driver was in tears seeing their state. The spot where Fenix sat was covered with blood, the place where Jeyaraj was sitting was also all blood. The blankets are still with us. They were beaten to death.”
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses have told The Federal that both the father and son were sexually assaulted in custody. “Between 7 am and 12 pm on June 20, the father and son had changed at least seven lungies each as they had become wet due to blood oozing from their rectums,” a friend of Fenix, who allegedly took them to the government hospital, told the publication.
The incident comes soon after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis due to police brutality, an episode which resurrected the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, with widespread protests rocking all 50 states. The movement spilled over to many countries, including India, where many took to social media to express their ire against police atrocities.
The death of Jayaraj and Fenix triggered a national furore demanding justice for the two. Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said, “Police brutality is a terrible crime. It’s a tragedy when our protectors turn into oppressors. I offer my condolences to the family of the victims and appeal to the government to ensure justice.”
While City Police Commissioner AK Viswanathan said, "Assault and torture (of the arrested) should not be done. As far as the Greater Chennai Police or the state police is concerned, we have reiterated that even language that could hurt someone should not be used"; K Chandru, a retired judge of Madras HC said the magistrate should be dismissed from his job for judicial impropriety and misconduct as it was his job to check the duo for injuries before remanding them in custody.Several celebrities from the film industry have also come forward and spoken up against police brutality:
This might just be one case out of many but it takes only one case to begin the snowball effect. #JusticeforJayarajAndFenix
It could’ve been anyone we know. Details are scary and gut wrenching.
— taapsee pannu (@taapsee) June 26, 2020
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) June 26, 2020
Actor-comedian Vir Das also took to Twitter:
What happened to a father and son at the hands of those policemen is wrong at every human level and every single person irrespective of place of origin or political belief needs to stand up for them. It is plain horrific and wrong. DEMAND action. #JusticeforJayarajAndFenix— Vir Das (@thevirdas) June 26, 2020
Vadgam MLA and activist Jignesh Mewani had also expressed his ire on the incident, joining the chorus to demand justice for the father and son:
Will Indians march on streets in thousands(forget lakhs), like America? Will our government pass laws for a more humane system like US lawmakers did?
June 26, 2020
Please note: Various publications are going with their own version of the spellings of their names – Jayaraj, Jeyaraj, Bennix, Benicks, Beniks, Fennix, Fenix. Till the time we have further clarification, we have decided to go with Jayaraj and Fenix.