TN: Incidents of Custodial Torture Continue, DMK Govt Asked to End Practice
Protest in Madurai against the suspected custodial death of Manikandan (Courtesy: Henri Tiphagne)
When the film ‘Jai Bhim’ was released recently, many people were in for a shocking revelation about the extent of custodial torture by the Tamil Nadu police. Even as discussions were going on about the inhuman practice, allegedly two incidents of torture and one suspicious death have been reported within weeks.
Five men belonging to the Kurava tribe of Chinna Salem in Kallakurichi district alleged custodial torture while a 21-year-old college student from Ramanathapuram died after being released from custody. A 63-year-old shop owner from Vizhupuram district also died after allegedly being beaten up by the police. In another incident, postmortem has been ordered into the death of a murder accused in Puzhal prison.
The police department denied allegations of torture, but the detainees and family members shared horrifying stories of brutal torture.
The memory of the brutal torture and the death of a father-son duo in Sathankulam in Thoothukudi remains another stain in the history of the police force.
The political parties and civil rights organisations in the state continue to call for zero tolerance policy on the use of custodial torture and open, transparent and fast-tracked enquiry against the perpetrators, but the successive state governments have continued to remain insensitive in addressing the issue.
‘COURT DIRECTION NOT FOLLOWED’
L Manikandan, a third year undergraduate student from Neerkozhiyenthal was taken to custody on December 4 and was found dead the next day. While the family claimed that the victim was complaining of stomach pain after release, the police denied charges of torture and released CCTV footages.
A case has been filed as per Cr.P.C section 174(3) on the suspicious death, but Henri Tiphagne, executive director of Peoples’ Watch, a human rights organisation, claimed that the police has=d not followed the directions of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.
“Without going into the facts of the case, a case must have been filed under 176(1)(A) Cr.P.C as per the directions in the Santhosh vs District Collector Madurai verdict, on allegations of custodial torture,” he said.
The single bench verdict pronounced in 2020 mandates autopsy to be carried out by a team of two doctors who have a master's degree in forensic medicine and are attached to a Medical College and Hospital in the state.
“In this case, the first postmortem has been conducted by an orthopaedic surgeon in a government hospital, Mudukulathur. The second postmortem was carried out on December 8, as per the procedure, only after the intervention of the Madras High Court,” Tiphane added.
The forensic report of the second postmortem was published on December 14, with the consumption of poison as the cause of the death of Manikandan.
“Usually, such reports could be obtained only after a few weeks. Here the ADGP has published the forensic report within five days. Such speed does not solve the misery behind the death, but only contributes to the increased suspicion,” Tiphagne added.
TORTURE OF MEN FROM KURAVA COMMUNITY
A similar case of alleged torture of five men belonging to the Kurava community was also reported recently. The men were picked up on November 14 and 16 on allegations of theft. The crime branch police allegedly barged into the huts of these men and took them away without any warrant. Three of them were produced in a court on November 17 while two were let off.
What followed was stories of pain and agony for the men, much in similarity with the film Jai Bhim. The New Indian Express reported that one of the men was hung up by his thumb.
In a interview to Comrade Talkies, the detained men narrated stories of the torture they suffered in custody.
“Since we are born in the Kurava community, we are branded as thieves by the police. Our birth is not our choice, but we have become the choice of the police on multiple occasions to charge the unsolved cases,” Selvam, one of the detained men said.
“They inserted paper pins on all our fingers and forced us to tap on the floor. We were hung with our hands tied behind our back. The police men left the interrogation room after doing all these,” he added.
D Ezhumalai, Kallakurichi district secretary of the CPI(M), after being informed of the torture of these men, appraised his party leadership and submitted a memorandum to the head of the state police force.
Only after a protest by the family members and the local activists of several political parties, the incident came to light.
‘ZERO TOLERANCE ON TORTURE REQUIRED’
With incidents of brutal torture not coming to an end despite outcry from the society, the call for zero tolerance over custodial torture has increased. During the custodial death of Jayaraj and Bennicks in Sathankulam police station, a joint action committee against custodial torture in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry was formed.
“16 political parties and around 80 different movements are part of this organisation. We have called for a policy of zero tolerance on custodial torture in all police stations. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is also a part of it,” Tiphagne said.
However, the DMK, after assuming power, has not addressed the issue, he said. “Such a sensitive issue needs urgent intervention from the chief minister. We have to bring an end to this cruel practice,” Tiphagne added.
“In addition, we demand the state government not to post the officers accused of custodial torture in any positions requiring interactions with the public. The police officers, on many occasions escape action due to the privilege they have got within our system, which needs urgent reforms,” he said.
The ruling parties remaining silent on the issues of custodial torture and extrajudicial killings have become common in the state. Few political parties, tribal, Dalit and human rights organisations continue to raise their voice against the oppression by the state machinery and seek an end to the practice of custodial torture.
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