“Manipulation and torture for an action that cannot even be categorised as a ‘crime’ shows how power in the hands of our supposed protectors goes beyond the legal framework. How does one justify such excessive use of violence and force by power wielding individuals?“
In a country like India with its political arrangements, abuse of power is a common topic of discussion. Be it the actions of our representatives buried in ignorance or the use of democracy as a veil over fascist agendas, misuse of power is a usual occurrence in the political domain. The discussions of the very notion of power abuse are, under a majority of circumstances, accompanied with instances where politicians pardoned an individual for heinous crimes, initiated a policy bearing outcomes fruitful to their own interests while stripping a section of the citizenry of their basic rights or instigating fear and violence among the population of the country. However, rarely do people question the country’s law enforcement mechanism, that is the police, for misusing the powers bestowed upon them.
What happens when the law preserving mechanism turns into a lawbreaking mechanism? It took the death of two victims of barbaric police brutality in India to finally open the eyes of the public to the most brutal case of power abuse.
The custodial death of the father-son duo called Jayaraj and Benicks respectively due to torture in the police custody in the Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu made the headlines and sparked massive outrage in the state and across other states in India. Jayaraj and Benicks were severely tortured and beaten by the police inspectors for the “crime” of keeping their shop open 15 minutes beyond the timings set by the government during the coronavirus lockdown.
The events that transpired witnessed by those who were close to the two and the description of the same on social media led people to question whether the severity of the crime was so much so that the father and son were ruthlessly beaten, and batons were shoved up their butts. One can only imagine the treatment that was met out to the two with their dhotis being changed several times due to continuous blood flow and blood clots appearing all over their bodies.
The entire incident offers an insight into the virus that corrupts the functioning of our legal system and its mechanisms. Despite being mercilessly crushed and almost beaten to death, the magistrate, B Sarvanan remanded the two of them to police custody without examining their bodies for any kind of physical abuse, as should have been done according to the legal procedures.
Another shocking violation by the police was the falsification of the FIR. According to this FIR, on being questioned by the police for keeping their shop open beyond the stipulated time, Jayaraj and Benicks quarrelled with the officials and began rolling on the ground which led to internal injuries. The CCTV footage proved that no such incident occurred and was entirely concocted by the police. It was full of other discrepancies with respect to the time of arrest and even the sub-inspector who made the arrest. Such manipulation and torture for an action that cannot even be categorised as a ‘crime’ shows how power in the hands of our supposed protectors goes beyond the legal framework. How does one justify such excessive use of violence and force by power wielding individuals?
The story of Jayaraj and Benicks is not new to India with such incidents of power abuse and police brutality being fabricated in our day to day lives often going ignored due to lack of mainstream media coverage. Undermining of life and liberty by the police is sadly a harsh reality of our legal system which does not receive enough attention from the masses.
According to ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’, there were 1,731 custodial deaths in 2019 out of which 125 were in police custody and the rest were in judicial custody. Out of these 125 deaths in police custody, 93 deaths were due to police torture.
The truth of the practice of torture is mostly buried and rarely do headlines flash arrest of a police official for this brutality and subsequent deaths. This illegality present in the actions of the civil authority of the government whose sole purpose is to enforce the legal framework highlights the flaws that are deep rooted in our system and how power play and its tentacles overpower an individual’s right to life and liberty.
Omar Abdullah’s tweet successfully brings into focus ‘convenient activism’ by film stars. However, the same holds for almost every citizen of India who fails to acknowledge that the incident of police brutality in the United States which shook the very foundation of the system is a daily phenomenon in India. The hypocrisy in Indians standing up against police brutality inflicted on American lives but ignoring to do the same for Indian lives is no doubt a contributory factor to the faults in our system.
We need to realise that it is us and our voice that can accelerate the reforms established by the Indian Supreme Court in terms of the functioning of the various legal mechanisms and how important it is for us to free India from the shackles of power abuse.
B.A. (Hons.) Global Affairs
O.P Jindal Global University