Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Monday ordered the transfer of inquiry into the alleged custodial death of a disabled Dalit man to the Crime Branch of the Crime Investigation Department, reported the Hindustan Times.

He also ordered a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to be paid to the family of 45-year-old Prabhakaran.

P Hamsala, the wife of the deceased, alleged that the police picked them up on January 8 from their home in Salem on suspicion of theft.

On January 11, the police sent them to judicial custody, reported The Hindu. The next day, Prabhakaran was taken to a government hospital after he complained that he was unwell. He died there in the night.

The police have suspended two sub-inspectors and one head constable attached to the Senthamangalam police station in connection with the case.

Narrating the incident, Hamsala alleged that the officials, dressed in plain clothes, had barged into their home on January 8.

“The woman police hit me while the men hit my husband,” she told the Hindustan Times. “But at that time, we didn’t even know that they were police officials. My husband kept screaming for help and neighbours began to come.”

In the first information report lodged in connection with the death, Prabhakaran’s brother Sakthivel said a commotion ensued and the police had threatened the crowd, reported The News Minute. “‘We will do worse things if you all don’t keep quiet,” the police reportedly told the people.

Sakthivel claimed that the police told him that his brother was being taken to the Karuppur station. He said that he found the couple neither at the police station nor at any courts in Salem and Namakkal districts. After two days of searching, Prabhakar’s son filed a missing persons complaint on January 10.

Prabhakaran’s wife told the Hindustan Times they were taken in a taxi to the Sendamangalam police quarters in Namakkal district.

“We were neither taken to jail nor to the court,” she added. “The police told us that they will buy food for us and take care of us if we do as they say.”

She alleged that the police beat her husband to make him accept charges of stealing gold ornaments.

“My husband cannot move without my help,” Hamsala said. “For three days, the police have watched me feed him, assist him when he had to use the restroom. How are we capable of any crime?”

She added: “For three days, they gave us food and continuously beat us. But they were careful that our wounds shouldn’t show so they hit us both in our palms and heels so that there is no swelling and no cuts and blood.”

Prabhakaran’s wife claimed that when they were brought before a court on January 11, the police told the judge that their families have been informed that they are in custody. When the judge sought to know if they were beaten, the police had denied it.

“They didn’t let us speak,” she told the Hindustan Times. “After that they took me to the Salem prison for women. I had no clue about my husband.”

Sakthivel said in the FIR that the he came to know about his brother’s whereabouts on January 12 when the police told that that Prabhakaran was “battling for his life” at the Government Mohan Kumaramangalam Medical College and Hospital in Salem .

Prabhakaran’s wife said that she learnt about her husband’s death after she was “chased out of the jail”.

“I still cannot believe that they did this to us,” she told the Hindustan Times. “My husband is fully disabled. How could they torture him like that? And he’s innocent.”

After the news of Prabhakaran’s death emerged, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, an ally of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, began protests demanding action against the police.

“We demand that the accused police be booked under provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 and for murder under the IPC,” said Namburajan, the general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers.

On Monday, several political parties in the state also held protests against the state government, questioning the use of excess force by the police.

Custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu

In June last year, a 47-year-old man had died after he was beaten up by the police in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district. Special Sub-Inspector Periyasami was arrested in connection with the death.

The deceased, A Murugesan, was beaten up by Periyasami at the Pappinaickenpatti check post as two other officers stood and watched the thrashing. A video of the incident showed the special sub-inspector beating Murugesan with a baton till he falls unconscious even as the friends of the deceased plead with the police officer to let him go.

In June 2020, a father and his son had died in police custody in the Thoothukudi district. Jayaraj and his son Bennix were taken into custody last year for questioning as they had kept their mobile accessories shop open outside permitted hours during a coronavirus-induced lockdown.

They were later sent to the Kovilpatti sub-jail. On June 22, Bennix complained of breathing problems and was admitted to a local government-run hospital. He later died at the facility. His father died the next day.

In its chargesheet, the Central Bureau of Investigation had said that the two were tortured by the police for more than seven hours. The chargesheet also stated that Jayaraj and Bennix were beaten so badly that blood was splattered on the walls. They were made to clean the blood with their clothes.