‘George Floyds of India’: custodial deaths spark outrage

The killing in police custody of two men in India has sparked outrage and a wide public debate on the questionable methods employed by Indian police. This is tempered by the fact that India has almost 5 cases per day of custodial deaths, making it notorious for being a land of police violence.

George Floyds of India

The deaths of a father and son from alleged torture at the hands of police have sparked outrage across India, with many drawing parallels with the killing of George Floyd in the United States. The George Floyds of India, hitherto dying away from the eyes of the community, are being recognized by citizens and answers are being demanded from the police.

Their case has thrown a new spotlight on police brutality just weeks after the killing of Floyd, an African-American man, by a white police officer in the US led to worldwide protests.

George Floyds of India: died in police custody

J. Jayaraj, 58, and Bennicks Immanuel, 31, were arrested on June 19 and accused of keeping their store open past permitted hours in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which has reimposed a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Police in Sathankulam, a town located 50 kilometres south of the port city of Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu state, said in a first information report (FIR) that Jayaraj and Bennicks were picked up on Friday, June 19 for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.

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They died in hospital a few days later, officials said, with their family alleging in written complaints that they were severely abused by police and had suffered rectal bleeding.

Two policemen involved in the alleged torture were suspended, the state’s Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said.

He added Sunday that the case would be transferred to federal agency the Central Bureau of Investigation, pending the approval of the Madras High Court.

The deaths in the small town of Sathankulam triggered a protest last week and shopkeepers across Tamil Nadu staged a strike on Wednesday.

George Floyds of India get support from celebrities 

Hundreds of thousands of tweets were sent out using the hashtag #JusticeforJayarajandBennix, that was among the top Twitter topics trending in India on Friday and among the top 30 trending globally, with celebrities and politicians condemning police action.

“Reeling from what I’m hearing. Absolutely stunned, sad and angry… the guilty must not be allowed to go unpunished,” tweeted Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra Jonas on Saturday.

“Let’s demand for the same justice we did for George Floyd,” said actress Krystle D’Souza.

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State politician, social activist and lawyer Jignesh Mevani wrote that the “George Floyds of India are far too many”.

“Will Indians march on streets in thousands like in America?” he tweeted.

Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, described it as a “tragedy when our protectors turn into oppressors”.

India: a land of police high-handedness 

The numbers are startling. A report by a consortium of NGOs against custodial torture have released a report in which they say 1,731 people died in custody in India during 2019. This works out to around five custodial deaths a day.

Several reports by human rights groups in India have detailed cases of alleged torture of suspects in custody, with deaths often blamed by police on suicide or natural causes.

According to the National Human Rights Commission, 3,146 people died in police and judicial custody in 2017-18.

“Custodial violence and torture is so rampant in India that it has become almost routine,” it said in a report.

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“It represents the worst form of excesses by public servants entrusted with the duty of law enforcement.”

The fact remains that torture and beating up suspects to extract confessions have become very much part of policing in India. Policemen who engage in it are rarely punished – most times they are simply transferred to another district or state.

The rare times that they are held accountable, judiciary have made stinging remarks about the need for reform.

Convictions in such cases are extremely rare, according to activists, who say much more far-reaching intervention is needed to change the system.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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