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Hartal across Tamil Nadu after father and son die in police custody

Shops across Tamil Nadu have closed in protest after the deaths of a father and son in Tamil Nadu police custody earlier this week, with widespread outrage across the state.

Jayaraj, aged 58, and his 31-year-old son Fenix had been questioned by Sathankulam police for violating lockdown rules and keeping their mobile phone shop open for half an hour past lockdown in Thoothukudi.

Police reportedly violently handled Jayaraj which evoked his son to intervene, further escalating hostility from police officers. The duo were taken into police custody at the Sathankulam police station, where they were allegedly beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted by the hands of police officers. Reports have suggested that two officers in particular – named as Balakrishnan and Pauldurai – were responsible.

“Jayaraj and Bennix were thrashed again after they were taken to the police station, even as some of us were witnessing it from the entrance of the police station,” said their relatives. “While the police brutally assaulted Bennix and inserted a baton into his anus that triggered uncontrolled bleeding, they smashed Jayaraj and kicked him on his chest multiple times with their shoes. We saw him bleeding profusely even as he was in police custody at Sattankulam police station.”

On 22 June, Fenix complained of “chest pains and uneasiness”, soon after which he was admitted to hospital and died. A few hours later, reports indicated that Jayaraj had also passed away on 23 June.

The deaths sparked outrage across the state, with opposition DMK leader M.K. Stalin calling on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, to be held responsible for the deaths. Several protests have taken place with celebrities, demanding justice for the family. Jayam Ravi, an Indian actor tweeted “justice must be done for this inhuman act”, whilst other celebrities such as director Karthik Subaraj, Kushbu and singer Suchitra have all released videos, tweets and awareness demanding appropriate action to be taken against the police officers guilty, pressuring their followers to sign and procure e-mails to the appropriate institutions.

Across Tamil Nadu today, 50,000 people have closed their shops to gather and protest against the police brutality committed against Jayaraj and Bennix, with the hashtag #JusticeforJayarajAndFenix trending on social media.

“If the death of Jayaraj and Benicks are ultimately established as custodial murder as a result of torture or assault by the police, it would only mean that the problem is much deeper than the mere lack of professionalism in investigative methods,” said The Hindu in an editorial earlier today. “It might indicate a different pathology among police officials that makes them inflict violence and harm against the weak.”

“The top brass of the police too will have to bear responsibility for this atrocity as it indicates a signal failure to lay down norms for policemen on the field to handle lockdown violations with humaneness.”

Also see more from The Quint here.