The father and son kept bleeding, barely able to stand, the Magistrate came to his first-floor balcony, someone shouted ‘Kovilpatti, remand’. Two days later, they were dead. The gruesome death of Jayaraj and Bennix has sent shockwaves across the country. Two police officers have been suspended, and some officers were transferred, but the country is demanding accountability.
Facts of the Case
There are two sets of facts, in this case. One of the eyewitnesses and other of the police officers. According to the police, on 22nd June, Bennix died in the hospital complaining of chest pain. Jayaraj died the next morning after suffering from a fever. They had an internal injury for ‘rolling on the ground’ while protesting police interference. However, their lawyer says the police tortured and sodomized the father and son.
Magistrate On The First Floor
On 20th June Jayaraj and Bennix were taken to the Sathankulam Magistrate, after a medical fitness test at the hospital. Allegedly, the Magistrate automatically gave the remand order without physically seeing the accused. Rule 6 of Criminal Rules Practice, 2019 requires the Magistrate to see the accused when brought for remand physically. This also allows the Magistrate to report both internal and external injuries. According to Senior Advocate V Kannadasan, if the Magistrate had seen the two men on the day of the remand, they could have saved. He could have sent them to a hospital first instead of a prison. ‘The real culprit seems to be the Magistrate who didn’t update himself on the law.’
Observation of High Court
The deaths have caused massive outrage amongst the public. More than 1,000 people of Sathankulam town in staged a dharna. The hashtag #JusticeforJayarajandBennix has sent out lakhs of tweets. Celebrities and politicians were condemning police action. Following this, the Madras High Court took suo-moto cognizance of the case. The Court observed that police brutality had become an endemic these days. The HC suggested the government use methods like yoga and counselling to alleviate work stress of police personnel.
In general, the police themselves work under incomprehensible pressure. They have terrible living conditions. Worst of all, they are usually beholden to corrupt superiors. The burden of the lockdown has undoubtedly taken its toll on them. However, cases of custodial deaths/torture are nothing new in India. Annual Report on Torture 2019 says 1,731 people died in custody in India during 2019 out of which 1,606 of the deaths happened in judicial custody and 125 in police custody. Police officers responsible are rarely punished and held accountable. Hence, they feel empowered to continue to used torture as a weapon.
The Supreme Court, in the case of Prakash Singh v Union of India, ordered the Centre and States to set up authorities to lay down guidelines for police functioning. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission observed the need to have an independent complaints authority to inquire about the cases of police misconduct. The Model Police Act, 2006 also requires State Governments to have State level and District level complaint authorities. The Indian report on police reforms accountability was one of the six major issues in 2017.
The UNDOC Handbook on police accountability, oversight and integrity state that it is necessary to establish a framework for police oversight and accountability. It says civilian control, investigating and acting in cases of police misconduct and reducing corruption are three main ways to combat police brutality. The Model Police Act, 2006 requires state authorities to have five members. The list predominantly consists of members of the executive and judiciary. Due to the rampant corruption, the public’s faith in the system is at jeopardy. Hence, a civilian-based complaints authority will be more appropriate.
The case of Jayaraj and Bennix has shocked the country. Many have equated their death to that of George Floyd in the hands of the police. Police brutality is a global issue, which can be solved with local laws. The matter will most probably be transferred to CBI. However, the CBI also has a shady record of brutality as is evident from Yogesh Bansal case. According to World Population Review countries like New Zealand and Hong Kong have almost no cases of police killings in 2020. All these countries have some form of civilian-based check on policing. The Public-Police relationship has been strained. During the lockdown, there have been several cases of public humiliation meted out by the police. The Indian policing system needs serious reforms starting with holding the perpetrators in custodial death/murder, accountable.
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