News Indian bishops decry custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu

Indian bishops decry custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu

Catholic bishops in India on June 28 joined civil rights groups, activists and political leaders to decry the deaths of a father and his son in police custody in Tamil Nadu, southern India.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India “condemns most strongly the brutal assaults on P Jayaraj and his son J Fenix while in police custody in Tuticorin, which resulted in their deaths,” says a press statement signed by conference president Cardinal Oswald Gracias.

Tuticorin is some 600 km south of Chennai, the state capital.

The bishops’ statement quoted media reports that said the police had picked up the father and son on June 19 for keeping their mobile accessories shop open during the lockdown.

While Fenix son died on the evening of June 22 at a hospital in Kovilpatti, Tuticorin, and his father died the following day.

Their killings are dubbed as the Indian version of the George Floyd incident. A white policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota of the United States on May 25 kept his knees on the neck of Floyd, a colored man, until he died. The death triggered unprecedented protests all over the states and the world.

The CBCI press release noted that when the father-son duo of India’s Tuticorin was released from jail, they were found profusely bleeding from their rectum. “Between 7 am and 12 pm on June 20, the father and son had changed at least seven sets of clothes as each had become soaked due to bleeding,” the bishops’ statement pointed out.

It also quoted Fenix’s friends, who were present at the police station for three hours, saying that they heard only screams and cries of the two while being assaulted in the lockup.

“Such brutality at the hands of a force that is called to protect our people is totally unacceptable,” the Indian bishops assert. According to their press release, the police are expected to inspire confidence in the people.

“The law should take its course and deterrent punishment should follow. This is to inspire confidence in good well-trained officers, who truly bring repute to our police force,” the press release says.

The bishops’ conference also called on the government to take immediate action against the culprits and to ensure that the families of the two are compensated.

“The Church prays that God may grant the departed souls eternal rest and that their family may get comfort and peace in this shocking situation,” adds the press release.

Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu government on June 28 decided to transfer the probe into the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, amid the outrage over the two death.

“After getting approval from Madras High Court the case will be transferred to CBI,” Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami told press persons.

The Tamil Nadu government has suspended four policemen, including two sub-inspectors, in connection with the custodial deaths.

Tamil superstar Rajinikanth spoke to Jayaraj’s widow over the phone and conveyed his heartfelt condolences, the actor’s publicist said in a tweet on June 28.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra condemned the deaths. “It’s time for all of us to raise our voices against police brutality. We see it again and again, in every state, all over India. It is unacceptable, cruel and completely unlawful,” she tweeted.

Vadra also asserted that the families of Jairaj and Fenix deserved justice. “They deserve for all of us to stand up for them and put an end to heinous crimes being committed under the garb of the law,” she wrote.

The incident dates back to June 19 when Jayaraj and Fennix were detained and later booked in Sathankulam in Thoothukudi district for allegedly violating lockdown norms.

They were remanded in judicial custody and lodged in Kovilpatti jail in the town on June 21.

The duo was booked under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 353 (use of force to deter public servant from duty) 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), and 506(2) (Punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.

The victims’ family members claimed that they had no knowledge of their arrests and came to know about it on June 22, when P Jayaraj was admitted to the Kovilpatti jail. The family alleged that both were brutally thrashed and subjected to extreme torture by police personnel while in custody.

Jayaraj and Fenix were admitted to Kovilpatti government hospital on June 22.

Due to continuous bleeding and severe external and internal injuries from alleged lock up torture, Fenix died late evening on June 22, while his father Jayaraj died in the wee hours on June 23.

A government doctor’s report confirmed that Jayaraj and Fennix had suffered multiple injuries, allegedly due to police torture at the Sattankluam police station in Thoothukudi district on the night of June 19.

On June 24, taking suo motu cognizance of the deaths, the Madras high court directed the Tuticorin superintendent of police to file a status report on the incident on June 26.

The Madurai bench of Madras High Court on June 26 asked Kovilpatti judicial magistrate to visit Kovilpatti branch jail, photograph administrative and medical records related to the case and CCTV recordings of the jail building. The court postponed the case for June 30.

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