Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi on Friday wrote to the National Human Rights Commission seeking immediate action against police personnel and others responsible for the alleged custodial death of a father and son Jayaraj and Bennix in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu.

There has been widespread criticism of the incident and backlash on social media. Jayaraj and Bennix were arrested on June 19 after they kept their mobile accessories shop open beyond permitted hours during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. They were remanded in judicial custody and lodged in the Kovilpatti sub-jail on June 21. Both of them died at a hospital days later. The family has alleged the two were tortured by Sathankulam police officials. Four policemen, including two sub-inspectors, have been suspended.

Kanimozhi, who represents the Thoothukudi Lok Sabha constituency, said the incident is a collective failure of the police and a gross violation of human rights. She highlighted the family’s allegations that the police had brutally tortured Bennix and sexually assaulted him. “...and further the police officials had beaten Mr Jayaraj and had kicked him on his chest multiple times with their shoes,” she wrote in her letter.

She said that it is also alleged that when the police took the father and son to get fitness certificates, the doctor had refused to provide it due to their high blood pressure. However, the inspector of the Sathankulam police station had “coerced” the doctor into providing the fitness certificates by disregarding their health conditions. “It is alleged that they were placed at least 50 metres away from the magistrate and were surrounded by policemen when they were taken into judicial custody,” Kanimozhi added.

The DMK MP, who handed over a cheque for Rs 25 lakh to the family on Friday, said that the police disregarded basic human rights, including the right to life and dignity as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. “As such there is overwhelming direct and corroborative evidence that the police officials, the magistrate who ordered remand, the medical officials who should have checked the health and physical fitness of Mr Jayaraj and Mr Benicks have collectively failed in discharging their duties,” she wrote in her letter.

Further, the DMK leader said that the police officials of Sathankulam in all aspects have violated the guidelines of arrest as laid down by the Supreme Court of India and the Police Standing Order issued by Tamil Nadu.

Kanimozhi said the rights commission has the power under the protection of Human Rights Act to take notice of such incidents. “Investigate and take necessary action against erring government officials who are responsible for the custodial deaths,” she added.

She claimed that there have been 15 incidents of custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu, but not a single chargesheet has been filed against officials in the cases. “Therefore, the NHRC may also take this into consideration and issue necessary directions in this regard so that no further lives are lost under police custody and stringent action is taken against all such officials who have abetted in gross human rights violations,” Kanimozhi said.

DMK President MK Stalin said the party will support every legal endeavour to get justice in the case. “They should be given the harshest of punishments,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam said on behalf of the party that the deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix was unfortunate and also announced Rs 25 lakh compensation to the family of the deceased.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also expressed shock over the alleged custodial deaths. “Police brutality is a terrible crime,” he tweeted. “It’s a tragedy when our protectors turn into oppressors. I offer my condolences to the family of the victims and appeal to the government to ensure #JusticeForJeyarajAndFenix.”