• Rukmini Ravishankar

#justiceforjeyarajandfenix: Question Everyone

I'm going to preface this piece by saying that I wrote it in an emotionally charged mindset. Like the rest of the country rightfully is, I am also frustrated and angered by the events of the past couple of weeks. And the only thing I could get myself to do is dive deep into the subject and pour it all out by way of this article. Because it is so emotionally driven, the things I've written here may seem unreasonable or excessive, but certainly not as unreasonable or excessive as what happened. I know this. But I am spineless. Hence this preface.

There is a scene in the 2005 Tamil film Anniyan where a lawyer who recently lost his daughter to an “accident” lists out every person that is directly or indirectly responsible for the death and claims that each one of them should be punished. In this list are people starting from a liquor shop owner who, having bribed police officers, kept his shop open on a national holiday, to the police officers themselves, all the way to the state’s ministers and members of parliament.

What happened in Thoothukudi was first of all, not an accident. And more than the measly 4 people that the government suspended should be held responsible. Who is every single person who was directly or indirectly responsible for A) the crime itself, B) police officers being led to believe that they are all-powerful, C) the shameful lack of awareness and D) the lack of any measurable retribution?

A. The Crime Itself: One Inspector was transferred and put on a waiting list and two sub-inspectors have been suspended. Okay, let’s ignore for now, the fact that that is not enough. But according to a recent conversation between RJ Suchitra and Barkha Dutt, 17-18 police officers repeatedly took turns to beat them up. So, first, arrest and present before court, every single one of those 18 police officers who ought to have some sort of twisted Satan complex to have perpetrated such a heinous crime. Then, question every other officer who works in that station – they didn’t/couldn’t do anything to stop it.

I couldn’t find out how many police officers are stationed in Sattankulam station alone. However, as of 2017, there are 19,26,000 police officers and more than 15,000 police stations in India. That should mean there are around 128 police officers per station. Where were the remaining 110? Say it’s 100, and half of them were on the dayshift. Even then, the crime happened over the course of 48 hours. Did the shift never change? Did they think it wasn’t their responsibility? Were they scared of reporting what was happening? Or do they also have a Satan complex? Counter: 118.

B. Police Officers Being Led to Believe that They are All-powerful:

No person is born bad. It is years and years of conditioning that makes people behave a certain way and treat others a certain way. Now I cannot go so far as to ask that the officers’ parents be punished because bad parenting is not listed in India’s penal code. But even then, how did these police officers decide that they have the right to commit this crime? Question their training officers. Question the directors and all faculty of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Administrative Academy, Mussoorie (26 people) and the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, (24 people) which are the two training organisations responsible for IPS training, and then the Tamil Nadu Police Training Academy, Chennai and the Police Training College, Chennai (around 20 people in total), which are responsible for Tamil Nadu state police training. If the problem is in the training centres, then this is preventable. But if we don't ask them questions and if we don't consider the way our law enforcement agencies are trained, then it most certainly will happen again, because it's happened before.

Investigate every other case of police brutality in all of the time that India has been an independent country – we cannot go back in time and change their verdicts but it is because of thousands and thousands of acquittals that officers think they’re invincible. And they’re kind of right too, aren’t they? Nothing’s happened to these officers yet.

And don't even get me started on the portrayal of the police in cinema. All of our industries glorify police violence and encounter killings to such an extent, that most of us as kids are made to believe that that's all policemen do - fight, fight, and then fight some more. Question every single one of these so-called "masala" filmmakers who make it look like it's a given that a cop be unfathomably violent.

Counter: 188 + masala filmmakers.

C. The Shameful Lack of Awareness:

If you remember, it was RJ Suchitra who brought this piece of news out to all of us – through an Instagram video, while many of the mainstream media houses were busy reporting political family scams and whatnot amidst circumstances like these. Commoners who want to make sure they and their families are safe, most likely do not quite care about such a scam as much as they do about their own “guardians” turning against them.

Typically, people take to social media with an incredulous question: Why is nobody talking about this? And the fact that this had to apply to a matter of basic fundamental human rights is appalling. Veteran independent journalists and celebrities have taken to Twitter and YouTube to talk about these issues, and I commend them. But it feels incredibly unsafe to think that you’re most likely to get credible and important pieces of news from Twitter.

But it’s not all their fault. Many of us common people out there simply do not want to hear about grotesque crimes. We would rather focus on all the good things happening in the country (which is a dreadfully small quantity, by the way). I have, in fact, firsthand, heard people say “Why are they reporting this?”, which is terrible. Tomorrow one of us could be in the same exact position, and wouldn’t you agree if I said we’d like a little bit of a warning? Counter: 188 + masala filmmakers + all media houses which neglected the incident till Suchitra’s Instagram video.

D. The Lack of Any Measurable Retribution

3 out of the 18 assaulters were suspended. If these 18 were common people, not cops, would they have suffered a greater punishment? If yes, then why exactly is a democracy holding certain people to lower standards than others? As law enforcement officers, aren’t these people supposed to be doubly responsible? Here’s the deal.

According to this conversation between Dhanya Rajendran and Faye D’Souza, a postmortem was supposed to have been performed on the night of 23rd June, but no report has been submitted as of 27th June. Only if the postmortem report confirms that the case was in fact a murder can a formal FIR be filed on grounds of cognisable crime.

The postmortem was done in Tirunelveli Government Hospital. Why has it taken them more than three days to submit an important report? Remember, submit a postmortem report, not perform the postmortem. How can I be sure that they’re not withholding evidence? Question the responsible medical officials. Question everyone who was supposed to be in charge of this case.

An understandable issue that protesters have is that we cannot have Tamil Nadu police be in charge of a crime committed by Tamil Nadu police (it is mostly only in theory that the judiciary is objective). Both, the ruling party and the opposition have promised to seek a CBI probe into the case. But what with the impression that they have successfully managed to build in all of our minds, I’m taking those statements with a spoonful of salt. Counter: 188 + masala filmmakers + all media houses which neglected the incident till Suchitra’s Instagram video + hospital officials in charge of the matter.

The fact of the matter is, this whole article is wishful thinking. In 2019 alone, 1,731 people have died of police brutality. In Thoothukudi itself, two more cases of police brutality have come to light since Jeyaraj and Fenix – that’s within 10 days. Wikipedia has a dedicated subsection for the cases of police brutality in India during the times of this pandemic. And where more than 200 people ought to have faced scrutiny, 3 people did. Where are we headed, really?

Cover photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash