Jeyaraj and Phoenix: outrage over deaths in Indian police custody

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The outrage increases over the deaths in custody of a father and son in the state of Tamil Nadu, in southern India.

P Jeyaraj, 58, and his son Phoenix, 38, were arrested for allegedly keeping their stores open beyond the permitted hours; Tamil Nadu is still watching a shutdown to curb the spread of Covid.

Both men were held in police custody an entire night and died within hours of each other two days later.

Relatives of the two men say they were subjected to brutal torture.

What has happened since his death?

As the details of the alleged torture emerged, people began demanding action.

Opposition state lawmakers have taken to the streets in protest, a merchants’ body has condemned the actions of the police, and a local court has raised the issue for its hearing.

The police officers who arrested the two men have been transferred, and the state government has awarded Rs.1 million (£ 10,716; $ 13,222) compensation to their families.

The incident has also reached social media, which in turn has put it in the national spotlight.

How has the reaction been?

Initially, many questioned why there is little or no outrage over the death of the two men, when so many Indians on social media have spoken about the fate of George Floyd in the United States, whose death at the hands of a white officer has sparked a great movement against police brutality.

Many Indian social media users have been supporting protests against white police brutality against American blacks. However, this incident has been slower, in part because it occurred in a smaller city, Thoothukudi, and took some time to attract the attention of the national media.

But in recent days, the topic has begun to gain traction as a furious discussion began on various social media platforms. In a video that has had over a million views, one user said she was “fed up with people not discussing what’s going on in South India because it’s not in English” and then proceeded to give a graphical account of the alleged torture of the two. mens.

There is also massive outrage that the policemen believed to be responsible for the men’s deaths are not being charged with murder and have simply been transferred.

Now high-profile users like opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and national cricketer Shikhar Dhawan have also tweeted, demanding justice for the two men and more responsibility.

The question of police brutality in India

Ayeshea Perera, BBC India online editor

The numbers are amazing. A report by an NGO consortium against torture in custody has released a report saying 1,731 people died in custody in India during 2019. This equates to around five deaths in custody per day.

The report also describes various methods of torture.

The fact is that torturing and beating suspects for confessions have become part of the police in India. Police officers who participate in it are seldom punished, most often simply transferred to another district or state.

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On the rare occasions when they are held accountable, the judiciary has made sharp comments about the need for reform.

In a verdict last year, a judge noted that “they are confident that they will not be held accountable even if the victim dies in custody and even if the truth is revealed.”

In 2006, the Supreme Court of India ruled that each state should establish a police complaints authority where any citizen can file a complaint against police officers for any misdemeanor. However, this has not been done in most states.

Activists say much broader intervention is needed to change the system.

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