The death of a father and son in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin following allegations of police torture before sending them behind bars has sparked huge outrage on social media. P Jayaraj and his son Beniks were arrested last Friday for keeping their mobile phone shop in Tuticorin open beyond permitted hours and died at a hospital four days later. The relatives alleged that they were severely thrashed at the Sathankulam police station by police personnel.
"Reeling from what I'm hearing. Absolutely stunned, sad and angry. No human being deserves such brutality, whatever be their crime. The guilty must not be allowed to go unpunished. We need facts. I cannot even begin to imagine what the family must be going through. Sending strength and prayers. We need to use our collective voices to seek #JusticeForJayarajandBennicks (sic)," actor Priyanka Chopra posted on Twitter.
The relatives of the two men, who were traders, allege that there were injuries to the rectum and other tell-tale signs of torture on the two bodies like tufts of hair pulled from the chest, and demanded murder charges against the policemen involved. The two men had been charged with criminal intimidation and verbally abusing the cops.
Though the First Information Report (FIR) mentions the name of the son as Pennis, his family says his name is Beniks. A Madras High Court document has spelt it as Bennicks.
Jignesh Mevani, Independent MLA from Gujarat, compared the incident to the killing of African-American man George Floyd in the US.
"Dear Bollywood celebrities, have you heard what happened in Tamil Nadu or does your instagram activism only extend for other countries? The George Floyds of India are far too many. The story of such police violence & sexual abuse is just heartbreaking," Mr Mevani tweeted.
Dear Bollywood celebrities, have you heard what happened in Tamil Nadu or does your instagram activism only extend for other countries? The George Floyds of India are far too many. The story of such police violence & sexual abuse is just heartbreaking. #JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) June 26, 2020
Cricketer Shikhar Dhawan tweeted, "Horrified to hear about the brutality inflicted upon Jeyaraj & Fenix in Tamil Nadu. We must raise our voice and make sure justice is given to the family (sic)."
Horrified to hear about the brutality inflicted upon Jeyaraj & Fenix in Tamil Nadu. We must raise our voice and make sure justice is given to the family. #JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix— Shikhar Dhawan (@SDhawan25) June 26, 2020
"No one is above the law, justice must be done for this inhuman act," Tamil actor Jayam Ravi wrote on Twitter.
#JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix No one is above the law, justice must be done for this inhuman act.— Jayam Ravi (@actor_jayamravi) June 25, 2020
The incident has triggered a furore in Tamil Nadu, leading to the suspension of four policemen, including two sub-inspectors. An inspector has been benched by the state government. There was a massive protest in Tuticorin, with shops closed in the districts and other parts of Tamil Nadu on Friday. Chief Minister EK Palaniswami, who controls the police department, condoled the deaths but was silent on the alleged torture. He has announced a total of Rs 20 lakh as compensation and a job for the family. The case has been taken up by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.
The death of the father and the son has also snowballed into a major political row and has triggered calls for law enforcement reform. Tamil Nadu's opposition DMK targeted the AIADMK government, accusing it of allowing policemen to take "law into their own hands" and announced it would give Rs 25 lakh to the family of the two men.
Condoling their deaths, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday said it is a tragedy when protectors turn into oppressors. "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," Mr Gandhi tweeted.
Relatives of two traders finally accepted the bodies on Thursday, expressing hope they would get justice and following assurances given by the officials.