Fresh revelations in the Sathankulam custodial murder case point to a cover-up that has been foiled by the timely involvement of the Madras high court. The judicial magistrate inquiring into the alleged murders of P Jeyaraj and J Beniks had informed Madras HC that he was intimidated by three police officers, there was considerable pressure on a woman constable who courageously deposed against her colleagues, and that crucial CCTV footage has been erased. Taking note, HC has ordered the Tamil Nadu police CB-CID to immediately begin investigation till the CBI team entrusted with the case takes over so that more evidence isn’t destroyed.
Public outrage from the snuffing out of two innocent lives, for the minor offence of keeping their shop open during curfew hours, is helping uncover more custodial deaths at Sathankulam and other police stations in the state. The impunity enjoyed by the police is also evident in the failure of institutional safeguards. The magistrate who robotically remanded the two grievously injured men to judicial custody, government doctor who issued medical fitness certificates to them despite the injuries, and callous officials at the sub-jail where the father-son duo endured a painful 48 hours, highlight the systemic rot.
It is supreme irony that the criminal justice delivery system has been caught dispensing injustice. Landmark judgments from DK Basu (1997) onwards have ironed out procedural loopholes to be followed in detention, arrest and remand. But when torture is implicitly institutionalised, well-intentioned procedures and guidelines are rendered toothless in the hands of apathetic officials. Ensuring swift conviction for murder of all police officers involved in the Sathankulam killings will be a major step towards bringing justice back on rails, as it will serve as a warning to other policemen inclined to inflict such gratuitous brutality. Alongside, the TN government must move to fix the rot in its justice delivery system.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.