The Court categorically stated that the Sathankulam police were taking advantage of the fact that the investigation of the case is in a limbo.
The custodial death of a father and son in Tuticorin which was more gruesome than George Floyd’s and shocked the whole world has finally begun to see a ray of hope in the process for justice while the TN government tried to cover up their misdeeds by passing the buck of investigation to the CBI.
These very same police officers who were involved in Tuticorin custodial deaths were responsible for grave human rights violations against Christians in February this year and complaints against them were made to the State Human Rights Commission and the Minorities Commission then. Had these Commissions done their duty by delivering justice then and taken to task these officers for their brutal assaults , probably the deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix would not have occurred.
The nation stands united for justice for Jayaraj and Bennix and High Court order comes as a boost to the hopeless situation created by the Tamil Nadu government by passing the buck to the CBI inorder to delay justice.
Taking serious note of the ante-mortem injuries found on the bodies of Jayaraj and Bennix, coupled with the averments in the report of the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti, especially the statement of Revathy, Head Constable, Sathankulam Police Station, who spilled the beans on the delinquent police personnel, the Madras High Court on Tuesday expressed the view that this _”would be prima facie enough to alter the case to one under Section 302 IPC against the Sathankulam policemen who were actively involved in the investigation of the case (against the father-son duo)”_.
The Court categorically stated that the Sathankulam police were taking advantage of the fact that the investigation of the case is in a limbo and were attempting destroy the evidence related to custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix
The division bench expressed its shock and said _”In fact, they (police) were emboldened enough to even intimidate the judicial officer to put spokes in the wheel of his enquiry”_.
The Court in its wisdom also deemed it to be in the interests of justice to have the statement of Revathy, Head Constable, recorded under Section 164 Cr.P.C. by a Judicial Magistrate, other than the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti and Judicial Magistrate, Sathankualm. It also directed the District Collector, Tuticorin, to immediately ensure the safety of Head constable Revathy and her family members as it was she who spilled the beans and further said _”She may even be granted leave from duty as we fear that there will be attempt to intimidate her and make her resile from her version given to the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti”_
It is also admirable that the HC, Madurai Bench on Monday had also initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against three police officers for obstructing the HC-ordered inquiry by Judicial Magistrate into the horrific custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix in Sathankulam town in Tamil Nadu.
In the current circumstances of the case, the bench appointed one Mr. Anil Kumar, who is presently the Deputy Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, Tirunelveli, and who was previously in the Special Branch, C.I.D., as the Investigating Officer. The Court ordered that he shall forthwith take charge of the investigation in the case and proceed further without waiting for any formal order from the Director General of Police, and further stated _”We fervently hope that Mr. Anil Kumar, D.S.P., will have before his mind’s eye, the river of tears flowing from the eyes of the family of the two deceased and take up the investigation of the case in all earnestness for wiping their tears”, the bench expressed its hope, adding that “He should also bear in mind that we are closely monitoring the case”_
This will ensure that no stone will be left unturned to get to the core of uncovering and exposing the culprits who seem to have been a law unto themselves.
The Court observed that in a case of physical violence, alacrity in investigation is the need of the hour. _”We are aware of the legal position that in the name of monitoring the case, we have no authority to direct the manner in which the investigation should be carried on. However, on account of the stalemate that has occasioned in the investigation due to the request made by the State Government for C.B.I. investigation, we are constrained to step in and fill up the vacuum in order to ensure that precious evidence does not get dissipated”_, observed the bench.
The bench also expressed that if they do not act now, it will become too late because as per procedure the Central Government’s nod is required for the CBI to take up the case and this would be time consuming. Further, the bench stated that _”The C.B.I. does not have an office in Tuticorin or Tirunelveli but only at Madurai, and that The C.B.I. is essentially an organisation equipped to deal effectively with corruption and white- collar offences, that in the present lock down situation owing to COVID- 19 pandemic, it is not known how many C.B.I. personnel will be drafted from other wings and made available to assist the Investigating Officer and that The Investigating Officer should get acclimatised with the local terrain, and that On the flip side, the C.B.I. does not even have a Special Public Prosecutor in the Madurai Bench to appear in bail and anticipatory bail applications that may soon follow suit”_
The court stated that all this will ensure advantage to the actual perpetrators of the offence and with delay of time evidence against the guilty would also dissipate.
In parting, the Court also observed with a historical reference _“One may wonder as to why it took this long for this Court to make the above observations. Public indignation cannot be the barometer for judicial orders. Public memory is short, but, judicial orders, especially those of the High Court, which is a Court of record, live for ever. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor committed the blunder of condemning Jesus Christ to death based on public outcry in a sham trial that was held before dawn and thereafter, washed his hands off with water. We cannot afford to emulate him. Hitherto, in the absence of credible materials, we were handicapped and now that, we have at hand some prima facie incriminatory materials, we decided to fill the gap via our above observations”._
This is for the first time in the history ever since the 1861 Police Act came into force, a Court has ordered for a police station to be taken over by Revenue officials which only proves that the High Court was more than convinced that Sathankulam police station was a den of savages. The literal meaning of Santhankulam in English means Devils pond and the action of the police proved to be no less.
Accountability and transparency through High Court monitored investigations will shine the light and expose the deeds of darkness that was carried out with impunity. The intervention of the High Court has surely turned around the tide of hopelessness and the light of justice will now hopefully shine to invigorate the hopes of those who are victimised and targeted notably the micro minority Christian community in this nation.
When assaults against citizens take place by those tasked with protecting them, the law should be harsher in punishing the guilty. If not, we will gallop toward a state of anarchy.
Chairman-Harmony Foundation & former Vice Chairman, Minorities Commission
(Views expressed are personal)