Protests broke out on Monday in Krishnagiri district over the alleged custodial death of a 20-year-old Dalit man from Puliandipatty village. Madan Kumar, who hails from a family of daily wage labourers, was found dead by his parents at a hospital in Uthangarai on Sunday, two days after the police took him in for questioning in connection with a burglary case.
According to his relatives, who spoke to TNM, the young man went missing on September 3. The family remained unaware of his whereabouts till September 5 when the police arrived at the doorstep of Madan's relative, Ganesh Kumar's house. The Masoor police had detained Madan Kumar over suspicions of his involvement in a case of missing jewellery and wanted to question Ganesh over the same case.
"When we went with Ganesh Kumar to the station, we found Madan beaten up inside the cell," alleges Suresh Kumar, the victim's cousin. "There was blood all over the back of his shirt, tufts of his hair was missing and his fingers were bleeding from what seemed like small puncture holes," he alleges.
When the relatives arrived at the station, they were allegedly told that Madan had named Ganesh, when asked if he knew who else was involved in the theft.
"But he was beaten up so badly that he probably named someone just for the torture to stop," claims Suresh. "Once we got to the police station, they said the men will be let off only if we give the police the 5 sovereigns of gold that was missing. Ganesh's wife sold her thaali and somehow by Saturday morning (September 7), we gave the police the receipt for the jewellery so that they can go collect it from the store," he adds.
However, while Ganesh was let off, the police allegedly detained Madan for further enquiries.
But on Sunday morning, at around 1.15 am, police officers came to the village, to pick up Madan's relatives, alleges Suresh.
"His parents were afraid to go so late in the night. But another relative named Sekhar went with them and when he went to the hospital, he found Madan dead there," he adds.
Police offer different version
The Krishnagiri police, however, offer a radically different version of events preceding the death, with the timeline of when Madan was picked up differing from his family.
"Madan was caught red-handed by the public on September 6, as he was scaling the wall of a house after a burglary," says Krishnagiri SP Gangadhar. "A few other men who were with him are absconding currently. That is why he was brought in for questioning," he adds.
The police claim that on the same evening, his parents took him from the police station to their homes.
"We have all the records to prove the same. He did not stay here because he was a local and we knew we could get him back for questioning at any point of time," says the SP. "He seems to have fallen ill and his family took him to the hospital," he adds.
However, Sekhar, the relative who allegedly took him to the Uthangarai government hospital alleges that the police is lying.
"I did not take him. In fact the police took me to see his body," he tells TNM.
When asked about the protests over his death, the SP claims that it is political in nature.
"Some political outfits are trying to use this matter," he claims, referring to the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi's involvement in the protests. "Madan was already diabetic and had heart ailments. The final post-mortem report is not ready but doctors have told us that he died due to the heart issues. He was not beaten up or tortured in custody," he adds.
The postmortem was done at a government hospital in Dharmapuri as requested by the family. However, the postmortem report is yet to come out.
Suresh Kumar, Madan's cousin alleges that a large cover-up is in play.
"They have beaten my brother to death and are now trying to hide this. I saw him injured with my own eyes," he alleges. "We have refused to take the body till a proper investigation is conducted into the death."