Cutting across denominations, Churches in India have condemned the deaths of a Christian father and his son while in police custody in the southern Tamil Nadu state.
P Jayaraj, 59, and his son Emmanuel Bennicks, 31, who ran a mobile phone shop in Sathankulam town in the state’s Thoothukudi district, were arrested on June 19 on charges of violating coronavirus lockdown norms.
Jayaraj and Bennicks were allegedly tortured while in custody and died two days later in hospital, said Father Z Devasagayaraj, rector of the Our Lady of Periyanayagi Shrine in the state.
Father Devasagayaraj said the two men were members of the Thoothukudi Nazareth Diocese of the Church of South India which is a united Protestant Church.
On June 18, Bennicks had kept his shop open until around 8:15 pm and policemen on patrol pulled him up for breaking the deadline for shutting shops.
A day later, the policemen visited the shop again and had an argument with Jayaraj. They got him to shut the shop before time and when he argued they took him to the police station, the priest said.
Bennicks found out and rushed to the police station and both the father and son were booked under several sections of the Indian penal code.
The two men duo were placed in jail on June 21. Both men were later taken to the Kovilpatti government hospital, where they died within hours of each other, Father Devasagayaraj said.
In her complaint letter to the district criminal court and assistant commissioner, Jayaraj’s wife, J Selvarani wrote that her husband and son were subjected to a brutal beating, which resulted in profuse rectal bleeding and eventual death. In her letter she sought action against the police officers involved.
Media reports further said the men had both bled profusely. Despite this the magistrate remanded them to jail and the jail’s duty doctor allegedly ignored their condition.
Claiming the duo were brutally tortured in police custody, the family have demanded the policemen involved should be charged with murder.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) on June 28 denounced the gruesome incident.
The CBCI “condemns most strongly” what occurred to Jayaraj and his son Emmanuel Bennicks while in police custody in Tuticorin, which resulted in their deaths, CBCI president Cardinal Oswald Gracias said in a press statement.
Such alleged brutality at the hands of a force that is called to protect people is totally unacceptable, Cardinal Gracias said.
“The CBCI calls upon the government to see that immediate action is taken and to ensure the family is compensated,” the cardinal said.
“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.”
The Church of South India has also strongly denounced the incident and sought action against those police allegedly involved in the deaths.
Advocate Fernandes Rathina Raja, general secretary of the Church of South India, sent an open letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and to the Vice Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities Manjit Singh Rai seeking action against those allegedly involved.
Raja pointed out that the police personnel who used excessive force did not follow lawful guidelines, nor did the magistrate fulfil his duty as required.
The letter drew the attention to how the doctor on duty “deliberately ignored or violated” rules regarding medically examinations when assessing both the father and son.
On June 24, the Madras High Court directed the Tuticorin superintendent of police to file a status report on the incident on June 26.
Several policemen have been suspended but no first information report has been registered, media reports claim.
Following protests over the killings, the chief minister said the case would be transferred to the federal Central Bureau of Investigation.
Using the hashtag #JusticeforJayarajandBennix, hundreds of tweets have been sent out as politicians and celebrities condemned the alleged police action.