MUMBAI, India – Four police officers have been arrested over the deaths in custody of a father and son who were detained for keeping their mobile phone shop open during coronavirus lockdown in southern India, police said Thursday.
The police are investigating accusations that the officers badly beat the shopkeepers in Thoothukudi, a port city in Tamil Nadu state, last week. They face murder charges, senior police officer K. Shankar told reporters.
The arrests Wednesday and Thursday came after a court ruled that autopsy reports of P. Jayaraj and J. Fennix Immanuel, suggested the police officers had been involved in the men’s deaths by torture.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), condemned the “brutal assaults” by the police.
“Such brutality at the hands of a force that is called to protect our people is totally unacceptable. The police is expected to inspire confidence in the people. The law should take its course and deterrent punishment should follow. This is to inspire confidence in good well-trained officers, who truly bring repute to our police force,” he said in a June 28 statement.
“The CBCI calls upon the Government to see that immediate action is taken and to ensure that the family is compensated. The Church prays that God may grant the departed souls eternal rest and that their family may get comfort and peace in this shocking situation,” Gracias continued.
The court ordered authorities to provide protection to a female police officer who gave an eyewitness account of torture in the police station.
A complaint by family members said the shopkeeper was picked up by police from his shop on June 19. His son who went looking for his father also was detained, and both were tortured and died.
On completion of investigation into torture accusations, police will take the four suspects to court, which will decide whether they should be formally charged with murder, a capital offense.
Police are strictly enforcing lockdown restrictions in containment zones in Tamil Nadu, the second worst-hit state in India by the pandemic.
Within India, the case is drawing comparisons to the death of George Floyd, whose death after being held in a chokehold by Minneapolis police on May 25, leading to protests around the world.
The National Human Rights Commission in India says nine people die in custody every day in the country.
“The George Floyds of India are far too many… Will Indians march on streets in thousands, like America?” Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani said.
Jesuit Father A. Maria Arul Raja blamed the apparent impunity of the police in India for the response.
“The outrage of the people against the arrogant attitude of some of the police personnel obviously drowned their spontaneous applause for the selfless service rendered during the contagious pandemic of COVID-19,” he told Crux.
The priest said reforms need to be enacted “for alleviating the growing trends of violence from the high-handed police culture.”
“By and large, the custodial deaths due to the brutal torture of the police defying all norms and legal prescriptions end up with exoneration of the police forces. And many such cases are coming to the light from various police stations across the state,” he said. “The police tendency to save the colleagues has to be broken through transparent conduct of reliable enquiry, fair trial, and diligent execution of the law. The dignity of every human being is much more important than the collective dignity of the police officials.”
Raja also said there were forces “with the agenda of dividing the people by naming both the victims and the perpetrators of the violence with their caste identities, religious affiliations or other factors.”
“This is the traditional ways of diverting people’s singular vision of promoting justice and the secular values of the Indian Constitution,” he said.
The Jesuit also dismissed “so-called stress and depression of the police personnel” as an excuse for police brutality.
“With such stressful depression are the police ready for unleashing such orchestrated violence against their own dear and near ones, or the ruling elite indulging in all sorts of corruption, casteism, communalism? Perhaps, this could be the starting point of the education for the police personnel till their retirement.,” he told Crux.
“The executive powers given to the police personnel are meant for healing the broken and affirming the poor people with human dignity. When they are deployed for serving the mighty people with slavish dependence for cheap incentives, then the police will never become the ‘Friend of the People’. If so, even the traditional saviors of the erring policemen cannot save them from the righteous wrath of the people,” Raja warned.
This article used material from the Associated Press.