Sathankulam Custodial Deaths: Those Left Behind
The CBI’s report on the probe into the Sathankulam custodial deaths of Jeyaraj and Beniks details what took place on the fateful days between June 19 (when the duo was beaten) and June 23 in Thoothukudi district, when Beniks died a day after Jeyaraj.
The Lede had earlier reported on the caste violence engaged in by police personnel attached to the Sathankulam police station.
Eyewitness accounts were also reported by The Lede, along with details of the role played by each policeman in the case.
The case, which caused national outrage over the sheer brutality inflicted upon two men without 'reason' (as per CBI report), is being probed by the CBI after the state government handed the case over.
The CBI report confirms that the deaths of both Jeyaraj and Beniks were a result of the severe injuries sustained during beatings received while in custody. The report also lays bare the sequence of events that took place from the time the duo left the Sathankulam police station to when they reached the jail.
During this intervening period, a number of officials could have intervened to hospitalise them. But they did not.
The Lede attempted to find out where these officials are at present and whether any departmental action at least has been taken against them.
Dr N Vinila, Medical Officer, Sathankulam Government Hospital
This was the first stop made by policemen escorting Jeyaraj and Beniks to the Kovilpatti sub-jail for remand. The mandatory medical report before remanding the duo was obtained here. While there are reports that she was threatened by the police into signing the “fit for remand” certificate, The Lede was not able to independently verify those claims.
The CBI report states: “the reports of initial medical examination of Benniks and Jeyaraj conducted by Dr N Vinila of Sathankulam Govt Hospital dated 20.06.2020 show that there were injuries in gluteal region on the body of both Jeyaraj and Benniks as mentioned in the “Proforma for health screening of prisoners on admission to Jail” when they were produced before the said doctor by the accused police officials for their medical examination, before their remand on 20.06.2020. There is an evidence that both deceased Benniks and Jeyaraj were having severe injuries on their buttoks/back and blood was oozing continuously from their wounds even at the time when they were brought to the Govt Hospital, Sathankulam and before they were produced before the Medical Officer, Sathankulam in the morning on 20.06.2020 for medical examination.”
The report also records the findings by the Judicial Magistrate I of Kovilpatti who conducted an enquiry after the custodial deaths.
The report quotes: “The Medical Officer though recorded the presence of injuries and knowing that Jeyaraj was a diabetic patient, had negligently failed to measure the blood sugar level and further finding his blood pressure level was to be so high, she certified him to be “Fit for remand”. Similarly, in the case of deceased Benniks, the Medical Officer though recorded the presence of injuries but in spite of knowing that Jeyaraj was a diabetic patient had negligently failed to mention the details of injuries elaborately and despite the blood pressure of Benniks was so high during his medical examination, certified him to be fit for remand.”
The Lede found out that apart from the CBI enquiry, a departmental enquiry was conducted by the Joint Director of Health in Thoothukudi and that all medical staff and doctors who had treated Jeyaraj and Beniks were questioned about their role.
The Lede spoke with Dr Vinila over phone but she refused to comment. “Everything I have to say has been said to the authorities. I do not wish to comment,” she said. Dr Vinila, however, confirmed that she was currently employed at the Sathankulam Government Hospital.
Saravanan, Judicial Magistrate, Sathankulam
The next stop, after getting a medical “fit for remand” certificate from Dr Vinila, was to meet the magistrate who would issue remand orders.
When the custodial deaths came to light, The Lede had spoken to an eyewitness who stated that “Police told them - if you tell the magistrate we beat you, we will slap all sorts of cases on you. Both of them were badly injured and bleeding and they were not taken out of the vehicle. They told the magistrate that the police did not beat them. The magistrate barely saw them and remanded them.”
It is unclear as to what action has been taken against Judicial Magistrate Saravanan who did not fulfil his sworn duty of ensuring that custodial violence did not take place.
The Lede's Thoothukudi reporter adds that the magistrate continues in his position, although he had not reported for work on Tuesday. It is not clear why.
The CBI and magistrate reports do not appear to make a mention of the remanding magistrate’s role in the crime.
After remand, the duo was taken to the Kovilpatti sub-jail at 2.30 pm on June 20. “The jail official who admitted them noticed that they were bleeding and asked the PC (police constable) who brought them what happened,” narrated a source who is aware of the sequence of events in jail. “The PC said they had got into a fight on the road and become injured. The jail official said I have to record these injuries otherwise they will say they sustained them while in jail,” said the source who did not wish to be named.
The CBI report too makes a mention of the fact that the injuries sustained by Jeyaraj and Beniks were in fact recorded in the prison’s ‘Admission Register.”
“As per the entries in the ‘Admission Register’ of Kovilpatti Sub-Jail, both the deceased Jeyaraj and Benniks were having injuries in their gluteal region and other parts of the body which were recorded by the Jail staff in the said register during physical inspection of the deceased at the time of admission.”
It is unclear as to whether any departmental enquiry or action has been taken against M Shanker, Jail Superintendent of Kovilpatti sub-jail and other prison officials, for not immediately taking the duo to hospital despite the severe injuries.
The Lede attempted to contact the DGP-Prisons regarding the same but he did not respond. The Lede was unable to contact M Shanker.
A senior bureaucrat, who preferred anonymity, told The Lede: “All these will be covered by magisterial enquiry. Action will follow based on report.”
The Police Personnel
A total of nine police personnel have been named as culprits in the custodial deaths case. Their names are as follows:
1. Inspector S Sridhar
2. Sub-Inspector K Balakrishnan
3. Sub-Inspector P Raghuganesh
4. Head Constable S Murugan
5. Head Constable A Samadurai
6. Police Constable M Muthuraja
7. Police Constable S Chelladurai
8. Police Constable X Thomas Francis
9. Police Constable S Veilumuthu
Another police constable A Pauldurai died in the interim due to COVID-19.
“Reluctant To Go To Hospital”
The CBI report refers to a ‘Doctor’s Register’ at the Kovilpatti sub-jail which has the details of injuries as well as recommended action noted in it. The doctor who examined Jeyaraj and Beniks for over 45 minutes on June 22 was Dr Venkatesh from the Kovilpatti Government Hospital.
The report states: “As per the ‘Doctor’s Register’ of Kovilpatti Sub-Jail, deceased Benniks and Jeyaraj were attended by the doctor of Govt Hospital, Kovilpatti in the morning on 22.06.2020 in the prison and dressing of their wounds was done.”
“They walked by themselves and came to see the doctor,” said the source in the know about the sequence of events during the days after the custodial violence. “When the doctor asked them how they got these injuries, they were reluctant to talk about it. They had been given medicines for high blood pressure by the Sathankulam doctor so their blood pressure was normal. Blood sugar levels were also normal. But Dr Venkatesh was concerned about the injuries and recommended an ECG be done, especially for the elderly Jeyaraj. But both father and son refused hospitalisation, stating that they were confident of getting out on bail the next day. Still, Dr Venkatesh wrote in the register that they be brought to hospital and an ECG done,” said the source.
That same afternoon, Jeyaraj was rushed to hospital due to breathing trouble and passed away there.
The next day his son Beniks too was brought to hospital where he suffered cardio-pulmonary arrest, according to the post-mortem report.