Opposition leaders in Tamil Nadu are questioning why the case against Jayaraj and Benicks -- the father-son duo from Tuticorin whose death in custody has unleashed outrage across the nation -- has not been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Jayaraj's family, they have pointed out, has alleged that the case against them was false and requires a thorough investigation, the opposition has said.
Jayaraj, 59, and Benicks, 31, were arrested on June 19 for keeping their shop open for 15 minutes beyond permitted hours during the coronavirus lockdown. In the First Information Report, the police claimed they argued and fought, showered verbal abuses and rolled around on the street to evade arrest.
The men died in custody, allegedly after brutal torture at the police station. The family alleges they had severe internal and external wounds, including rectal bleeding.
After nationwide outrage and demands for action against the policemen involved, Chief Minister E Palaniswami had handed the case over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Four policemen, including two sub-inspectors, have been suspended and an inspector has been suspended by the state government.
Today, two police officers and a constable were summoned by the Madras High Court over the deaths. The court has said the state government must transfer the policemen or it will be "very difficult" to conduct a free and fair inquiry.
The court had also started contempt proceedings against the Tamil Nadu police, after going through the report of a judicial inquiry into the deaths, which accused the policemen of non-cooperation.
"You cannot do anything against us," one of the accused constables had told the Judicial Magistrate, who was tasked with investigating the deaths.
"We are of the opinion that the report submitted by the learned Magistrate is sufficient for us to take cognisance of criminal contempt on our own," the High Court said. "The police are doing everything within their command to prevent magistrate from proceeding with the inquiry," the judges added.
The incident has triggered a furore in Tamil Nadu and snowballed into a major political row, involving 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".
Actor-politician Kamal Haasan has lashed out at Chief Minister Palaniswami and his government, labelling them "prime accused" in the deaths.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also cited the issue on Friday, tweeting, "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 justice for Jeyaraj and Fenix (sic)".