Every 24 hours, nine people die in judicial or police custody in India, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
After a rare arrest of police officers on murder charges, over the death of father-son duo J Jayaraj and Bennicks Immanuel in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district, the conversation around custodial deaths has picked up steam in India. More and more victims, emboldened by the support pouring in from all corners, have since come forward, recounting their tales of horror at the hands of law enforcement authorities. Calling attention to the incident was a video clip shared on social media by Suchitra, a Radio Jockey.
What exactly happened?
The incident unfolded on social media. On June 25, a video detailing the arrest of Jeyaraj (58) and his son Bennicks (31) went viral on social media. The widely-circulated clip, made by singer and radio jockey RJ Suchitra, narrated the circumstances under which the duo was arrested, the alleged tortures they suffered while in custody, and the unfortunate events which led to their eventual death.
[Trigger Warning: Extreme Police Brutality]
“This video is in English, and it is to explain in graphic details what happened to Jayaraj and his son during this past one week in a town in my state, called Tuticorin,” Suchitra begins in the video which has garnered over 18 million views on Instagram alone. On other social media platforms as well, the clip has been shared massively.
The singer-songwriter then goes on to share, in vivid details, what exactly happened to the duo in the police custody, and the horrific way in which they were allegedly physically tortured, beaten, and battered bloody. (We are embedding the video here, but viewer’s discretion is advised).
Suchitra’s account was echoed by Advocate S Manimaran as well, who is Bennicks’ lawyer and an eyewitness to the brutal incident.
“We were seeing the whole incident from outside through a glass gate. Bennicks and his father were beaten. In the morning there was blood all over the place where they were sitting,” he was quoted by media reports.
He added, “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, Bennicks 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 Bennicks sat was covered with blood, the place where Jayaraj was sitting was also all blood. The blankets are still with us. They were beaten to death.”
The heinous details of the alleged custodial deaths of the father-son duo have since become a talking point both on and off social media. Prompted by Suchitra, better known as RJ Suchi, and her call for action, netizens across the country, comprising both celebrities and commoners, have come forward to call out the alleged torture, unlawful detention, and the violence meted out to the two men.
Can sense everyone move on and it’s natural. Am happy some major things got acheived before ppl lost interest. 6 cops convicted of murder (non-bailable) - and more to come, people making videos raising their voices, and now they are so many videos for Jayapriya!! (1/2)
— Suchitra (@suchi_mirchi) July 4, 2020
Suchitra and her role in this movement
In the days following Suchitra’s viral video and consequent posts made by celebs and netizens demanding the arrest of the accused, several significant developments have taken place. A special team from CBI has taken over the investigations into the alleged Tuticorin custodial deaths. In addition, five new arrests have also been made. The accused police officials have been charged with the murder of Jayaraj and Bennicks (Fenix).
A spokesperson for the CBI has told media, “The CBI has registered two cases on the allegations of custodial death of two traders in Kovilpatti district on the request of Tamil Nadu government and further notification from government of India.”
It marks a significant milestone since the case coming to the limelight and Suchitra’s video informing Indians – even non-Tamil speaking people of the country – of the atrocities committed in their own backyard, a much-needed development if you ask in the wave against police brutality across the globe. (The recent anti-racist movement in the US was also triggered by the killing of an African-American man by the cops.)
But a question arises – is this enough to combat institutionalised brutality?
Maybe not. And just maybe, the answer lies in how this case unfolds from here on, and just doesn’t receded from our memories.
As Suchitra rightly said, “We are in a place in history where we can make a landmark decision, the court can make a landmark decision that any cop who wants to raise his hand on an innocent person should shudder thinking that he could be hanged to death for this as well.”
(Edited by Athira Nair)