Tamil Nadu's decision to ask the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) to probe the deaths of a man and his son in Tuticorin in police custody amid allegations of brutality won't ensure speedy justice, activists have said.
J Jeyaraj, 59, and his son Beniks Immanuel, 31, were subjected to a brutal thrashing, which resulted in rectal bleeding and eventual death, according to a letter to government officials written last week by Jeyaraj's wife J Selvarani. The letter sought action against the police officers involved.
The police in Sathankulam, a town located 50 km south of the port city of Tuticorin in southern Tamil Nadu, said in a first information report or FIR that Jayaraj and Beniks were picked up on Friday, June 19 for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.
As outrage swelled over the incident, E Palaniswami in a statement called the deaths "very unfortunate" and had vowed justice in the case.
"The government has decided to have a CBI probe. We would hand over the case to CBI with permission from the Madras High Court. We would do this during the next hearing. Presently the Madras High Court is probing on its own," the Chief Minister said on Sunday.
Four policemen, including two sub-inspectors have been suspended and an inspector has been benched by the state government after a case of suspicious deaths was registered.
Henry Tiphagne, Executive Director of People's Watch, a human rights watchdog, said: "First the state government ought to alter the suspicious death case into a murder case. Otherwise what case is there to transfer?"
"A court-monitored special investigation team headed by a senior ADGP rank officer would help in speedy justice... CBI probe will not help in that. Nothing has happened in the CBI probe into the police firing against protesters that killed 13 people in Tuticorin even after nearly two years," he added.
Tamil Nadu's opposition DMK, which had earlier threatened to move the court seeking a CBI probe if the state doesn't investigate and act properly, on Sunday called the state government "spineless".
A Saravanan, party's spokesperson, said: "The Chief Minister, who heads the police, is afraid to take action against erring police officials. The National Human Rights Commission's guidelines for a probe by a premier agency in the state hasn't been done. This is how they dilute a case."
Beniks died on June 22 after complaining of breathlessness and Jayaraj died the next day, Chief Minister Palaniswami, who oversees the police in the state, said in a statement on Wednesday. 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.
The Chief Minister on Sunday also said that the two men had died in hospital. "Over an issue on closure of their cell phone shop, a case was registered and were sent to judicial custody. Both died at Kovilpatti hospital where they were admitted."
The family members of the men, who have demanded murder charges against all the policemen involved, says they would wait for the decision of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court which ordered a judicial Magistrate's probe on it's own.
Vinoth, the son-in-law of Jeyaraj, told NDTV: "We would wait for the decision of the court. We wouldn't want to say anything about this now."
With elections due next year, politically, it has been seen as a move by the ruling AIADMK to put this case - which has sparked a national outrage - into cold storage amid attacks by the opposition.
Many feel there was no need for a CBI probe. In 2018, when the Tuticorin Police faced public anger for the shooting against anti sterlite protesters in 2018 that killed 13 people, the Chief Minister had transferred the case to the central probe agency.
The investigation has made no headway even after two years.
On Sunday, actor-politician Kamal Haasan has lashed out at Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his government, labelling them "prime accused" in the controversial deaths.
"A government and chief minister who blindly support police murders are also prime accused. The perpetrators, abettors, mute spectators and those who tried to cover this crime up ought to be punished," Kamal Haasan said.