Tuticorin: Fearing for life, a woman police constable at Santhakulam police admits she witnessed brutality on Bennix and Jayaraj on June 19.
Police thrashed a deceased father-son duo the whole night there, with lathis used for allegedly assaulting them and a table carrying blood stains, said Revathy, a woman head constable attached to the station has told a judicial probe.
Mentioning Revathy’s statement in a four-page report to the Madras High Court Madurai Bench, the Judicial Magistrate probing the deaths said she feared receiving threat if she revealed the facts.
The Madras High Court, which has taken up the matter of the death of the duo– P Jeyaraj and Bennicks, alleged victims of police torture, had on Tuesday transferred the probe to the CB-CID under DSP Anil Kumar.
Revathy assured safety
Over the last 24 hours, Revathy has been immensely praised for coming forward as an eyewitness in the Sathankulam custodial deaths case. From film personalities to former bureaucrats, several people have hailed her as courageous for her decision to reveal details of assault against Jayaraj and Bennix to the Kovilpatti magistrate.
At her home in Sathankulam, where the officer lives with her husband and two children, fear remains the dominant emotion.
“People are praising me but I didn’t want any of this publicity,” she tells TNM, referring to tweets and social media posts supporting her. “I did not want my statement to the magistrate to be put out in the public domain and I put this request to them specifically. I really don’t want to be tortured by senior officials,” she says.
The 37-year-old’s statement appears in both the Kovilpatti magistrate’s report to the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, and more importantly in the High Court’s order, which is a public document. “I just told the magistrate the truth about what I saw in the station. But now I am scared of retaliation from senior officers for giving my statement,” she adds.
In her statement to the magistrate, she said that the duo were thrashed by the police till the morning of June 20 and that lathis and tables were blood stained following the brutality. Based on her statement, the magistrate had collected the lathis of all police officers in Sathankulam station.
Considering how crucial her statement is to the case, the High Court directed that she be given necessary protection.
“I am worried that I am at risk. If they didn’t put my name in the documents I would have been less scared. They told me they won’t use my name, and since I heard they have used it, I have been very distressed,” she says. “I have been relieved from the Sathankulam station but I don’t want to report to the next station I have been posted to as of now,” she adds.
Assurances from the district administration and Superintendent of police will help gain some confidence, the witness adds.
“I have given a letter to local authorities asking for police protection for myself and my husband, as well as a month off from work. I have been very disturbed,” she says, “I need some time to gather myself.”
District Collector Sandeep Nanduri regarding the woman officer’s request assured that steps to ensure that she is comfortable are already underway, The News Minute reported.
“We are following the High Court’s order to ensure that she gets protection. Two police constables are appointed for protection for her and her husband. In addition, we have also assured her that she will be given one month leave,” he says.
Even in his report to the court, the magistrate clearly states that the woman constable was extremely afraid to give her statement and that he had taken several measures to make her feel safe and promise her protection to get her version recorded.
“I have told the magistrate everything,” says the police official. “And now I just want to ensure safety for myself and my family.”
It had also ordered protection for Revathy and her family.
In her statement, Revathy told the JM that “The two persons were beaten up the entire night by police personnnel there (Sathankulam PS) using lathis. Due to this there were blood stains on the lathis and a table and she said they (stains) should be collected immediately as they (policemen) could try to erase them,” the report said.
The JM alleged non-cooperation by the personnel at the police station, including when he sought handing over of the lathis and said the cops heeded to his demand only after being ‘compelled’.
One of them even fled the place by scaling a wall when sought for his lathi.
He further submitted that Revathy did not sign on her statement immediately and did so after a long time upon being assured of her safety.
Her statement was “recorded carefully”, even as she was apprehensive of receiving threat if she revealed the truth.
Constable made disparaging remarks
The JM said that throughout his stay at the station on June 28, the police did not cooperate and one of them displayed “macho and intimidating body language”, even as a constable made disparaging remarks against him later.
Incidentally, three personnel, ASP D Kumar, DSP C Prathapan and the constable Maharajan had on Tuesday appeared before the High Court on being summoned by it over the matter.
The constable told the court he was “overstressed” and had made the remark against the Judicial Magistrate by mistake.
The JM further stated that the settings of the CCTV hard disk in the police station, despite having sufficient space of one terrabyte, were configured in a way that the day’s footage will be “automatically deleted.”
Attempt to disappear evidence
The High Court had earlier said that from the report filed by the Judicial Magistrate, it was able to discern that the Sathankulam police were taking advantage of the fact the investigation of the case was in limbo and were attempting to cause disappearance of evidence.
They were emboldened enough to even intimidate the JM during the investigation in the station, Justices P N Prakash and B Pugalendhi had noted.
The original statement of the Revathy should also be given to the the DSP Anil Kumar.
Jayaraj and his son Bennicks, arrested for ‘violating’ lockdown norms over business hours of their cellphone shop, died at a hospital in Kovilpatti on June 23, with the relatives alleging that they were severely thrashed at the Sathankulam police station by the personnel earlier.
The incident had triggered a nation-wide furore, leading to the suspension of five policemen, including an inspector and two Sub-Inspectors.
The Superintendent of Police had been shunted out of Tuticorin and put on compulsory wait.
All the personnel posted at Sathankulam police station earlier have been transferred out.
The probe into the case has been since transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the Tamil Nadu government, though the Court transferred the case to the CB- CID till CBI took over, fearin evidence may disappear.