Demanding the Centre and state enact a law on torture, a group of human rights activists in Tamil Nadu has brought out ‘Sathankulam Declaration’ on June 26, the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
The Declaration comes a year after the custodial death of father-son duo Jayaraj and Bennicks at Sathankulam in Thoothukkudi district. The duo was illegally detained by the police – for alleged lockdown violation – after picking them from Beniks’ mobile phone shop. No one has yet been punished for the incident which created massive outrage in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere.
Recently, in Salem district, a group of cops thrashed A Murugesan, a 47-year-old farmer, on a busy road and a video of the action taken by Murugesan’s nephew went viral.
“The collective conscience of our society was shocked and outraged by the police brutality that led to the loss of lives of Jayaraj and his son Bennicks on June 22, 2020. Despite the laws, police excesses, including custodial torture, have unfortunately become part of institutional culture and are enabled by practices of impunity,” said Joint Action Against Custodial Torture (JAACT), which has brought out the Declaration.
The Declaration consists of 14 point demands such as no detention without lawful arrest, arrest and detention to be exercised judiciously, rights of arrested persons, medical examination, rights during remand period, transport facilities, prohibition of the use of handcuffs or leading chains, minimum interrogation by the police, procedures to be followed in the interrogation of a child as a victim of a child on conflict with the law, protocols to be followed while interrogating a woman, fixing of CCTV cameras, respecting the fundamental right to dignity, providing panel advocate delegated by the legal services authority, and re-constitution of the state and district police complaints authority.
“These demands are formulated based on the judgments given by courts and or already existing international and national standards,” said Henry Thiphagne, founder, Madurai-based human rights organisation People’s Watch. Thiphagne is a JAACT member.
Asked about the repeated atrocities of police in Tamil Nadu, Thiphagne said those brutalities cannot be stopped through courts or declarations, but only by creating awareness among the public.
“The public should be enabled to complain and the government should be able to support citizens who lodge a complaint. So far we never had a state government with such a line. Looks like, the present government thinks differently. The DMK has said that they will fight and campaign against such torture. It should be turned to action immediately,” he said.
The Declaration must be seen against the backdrop of what Sanjib Banerjee, the Chief Justice of Madras High Court observed in the Thoothukkudi police firing case. The firing happened during anti-Sterlite protests in May 2018, killing 13 unarmed protestors.
He asked: “Can we kill people and throw money at them and say our job is done? Is that the society that we want to build? Just throwing money at some people and everything is hushed up. No conclusions need to be drawn yet before the facts come to light. But it is necessary that the facts come to light and be made public.”
The court has expressed shock that no one is booked after three years of the incident. Interestingly, it was during the hearing of Thiphagne’s petition, the court made these observations.
The petitioner sought direction from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which is yet to submit its investigation report. Meanwhile, a judicial commission, headed by Aruna Jagadeesan, was also set up to probe the incident. The commission submitted an interim report to the state government in May 2021.
“Tamil Nadu should enact a new law on torture as we have laws for child marriage, dowry etc. Similarly, India has still not signed and ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). It must be ratified soon,” said Thiphagne.