The Federal wins RedInk Award for story on Sathankulam custodial deaths
The Federal’s Prabhakar Tamilarasu has been named the winner of the prestigious RedInk Award (2021) under the Human Rights Print category for his incisive reportage on the horrific custodial deaths at Sathankulam in Tamil Nadu.
The story narrated, rather exposed, how a man-son duo, who died in custody, were subjected to sexual torture at the police station. The incident sent shock waves across the state, and elsewhere.
Here we reproduce the article which was published on June 24, 2020. You can also read all of our articles on Sathankulam here
In a horrific turn of events, the father-son duo that died in judicial custody in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district recently had suffered sexual torture (inflicted using lathis) at Sathankulam police station, eye-witnesses have said.
On June 19, Jayaraj (59) and his son Emmanuel Benicks (31) were arrested after they allegedly had an altercation with Sathankulam police. While Benicks died at Kovilpatti Government Hospital on the night of June 22 after complaining of chest pain, Jayaraj died the next morning at the same hospital after suffering from fever.
“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,” said Rajkumar, a friend of Benicks.
Speaking to The Federal, friends and lawyers of the duo who had witnessed the incident recounted the horrific sequence of events.
Rajkumar said the friends were unaware of the sexual torture until the police asked them to bring their own vehicle to transport the duo to the government hospital in Sathankulam. “They (Jayaraj and Benicks) came out of the station with torn pieces of cloth and were covered in blood,” said Rajkumar.
“They complained of severe pain in their rectums. We immediately gave them a lungi and spread a thick cotton cloth on the car seat, so that it would not hurt them,” he said.
But, even before they reached the hospital, the lungies again became wet because of the blood. So, the friends had given them another set of lungis before they entered the hospital, said Rajkumar.
“However, upon checking the father-son duo, the doctor at the hospital refused to give a fitness certificate as their blood pressure was very high,” says Manimaran, an advocate who accompanied the duo during the medical check-up. At 7.05 am, the blood pressures of the father and son were 192 and 184 respectively, he said.
“Jayaraj and Benicks were asked to have something to reduce the blood pressure. The doctor tested the duo thrice between 7.05 am and 11.15 am. They were also given tablets and injections thrice. We pleaded to the police to give them medicines to stop the rectal bleeding, but the police said the bleeding would stop without medicines,” Manimaran said.
As their body pressure did not go down even after multiple check-ups, Rajkumar alleged that Sathankulam inspector Srithar had asked doctors to provide a certificate stating that the duo was fit, when they actually were not.
After receiving the certificate, the police took the duo in the same car to Judicial Magistrate P Saravanan’s house. “We told Benicks to inform the judicial magistrate whatever had happened to him in the police custody. But he was afraid and told us that the police had threatened him of ruining his life if he revealed anything to the magistrate,” Rajkumar said.
According to his friends who witnessed the incident, the duo was placed at a distance of at least 50 metres from the magistrate. “Four police personnel had surrounded him (Benicks) when he was remanded in judicial custody. The personnel were constantly threatening the father and son. So, practically it was not possible for the duo to tell the judicial magistrate what had happened,” said Rajkumar.
The duo was then taken to the Kovilpatti sub-jail that is around 100 km away from the Sathankulam police station in the friends’ car. “He (Benicks) was repeatedly saying he was beaten for no reason and it hurt him more than the external injuries. He asked us to take care of his mother and not to inform her anything about his custodial torture,” said Rajkumar.
It all began on the night of June 18 when police told owners to shut their shops in Sathankulam on time. A person had allegedly passed comments. “Thinking the person was Jayaraj, police took him to the station on June 19. Benicks rushed to the station to inquire about it,” said Raja, another friend of Benicks, who later went to the station.
But to everyone’s shock, Benicks too was assaulted by policemen at the station. “After he questioned the police brutality against his father, the policemen held him by his collar and pushed him towards the wall. At least five policemen including the sub-inspector and constables beat him black and blue in front of us,” said Ravi, another friend.
After Ravi and Manimaran, who too witnessed the incident, questioned the police’s action, they were asked to get out of the station. “They literally pushed me outside the station and closed the doors. From 7 pm to 10 pm, we heard only the screams and cries of Jayaraj and Benicks,” he alleged.
Around 11 pm, Ravi and Rajkumar managed to sneak inside the station only to be stopped by the policing volunteers who said an investigation was going on. “We managed to see Benicks, who was naked and covered in blood,” Ravi alleged.
Police then allegedly pushed the friends outside. They could only see the duo at 6.30 am on June 20. “But, throughout the night, the duo cried for help and people residing about 500 meters away from the station could hear that,” Ravi said.
Confirming what the other witnesses said, Benicks’ elder sister Persis, after seeing the bodies ahead of the autopsy, told reporters in Tuticorin on June 24 night: ‘Munnadiyum pinnadiyum onnume illeh’ (there was nothing left of the front and rear of their bodies).
“As a girl and as an elder sibling, I cannot describe it at all. They were severely tortured and killed. I didn’t even tell my mother of this. We need justice. It should not happen to any other family,” she said.
She also urged the Chief Minister to file a double murder case against all those involved in the incident. “Would we leave it so if a common man had done the same,” she asked.
When reporters asked her if there were any injuries in the rectum, she confirmed that there were injuries to the rectum.
After the death of the duo, the district police suspended sub-inspectors Balakrishnan and Raghu Ganesh and police constables Murugan and Muthuraj against whom strong allegations have been raised. All police personnel in the Sathankulam station have also been transferred to various other stations, unconfirmed reports said. The police have also kept Sathankulam police inspector Srithar on compulsory wait. Collector Sandeep Nanduri said the authorities would initiate action against other police officers, based on the inquest report.
Meanwhile, the TN State Human Rights Commission has taken suo-motu cognizance of the offence and asked the DGP to file a reply in this regard.