Outrage has erupted across the country over the horrific custodial violence faced by deceased father-son duo Jeyarajan and Bennix on June 19. They allegedly died from injuries inflicted by police officials at the Sathankulam police station in Thoothukudi district and their deaths have led to a nationwide campaign questioning systemic violence by men in khaki, with the public demanding accountability for their actions.
However, just 10 days before this tragic event created microscopic focus on police brutality in Thoothukudi district, a similar case of excess had unfolded just 30 kilometres away from Sathankulam.
On June 9, 33-year-old Habeeb Mohammed was walking into Kuthukal street in Kayalpattinam, to bring his autorickshaw out and begin his savaari (rides) for the day. However, the street he was about to enter had been classified as a containment area and barricades had been set up.
"I still went in though because it was a shortcut to get to my auto. The other route was too long," admits Habeeb. "It was close to 10.30 am and I had a mask in my hand but I was smoking a cigarette and so I wasn't wearing it," he adds.
He alleges that he did not think that this one act of indiscretion would lead to hours of thrashing on the same day and injuries that would leave him desperately in need of dialysis treatment every three days.
"A woman police officer near the barricades on the street started arguing with me and claiming that I blew smoke on her face," says Habeeb. "I did no such thing but she started calling other policemen to the spot. Then one of the officers came and said I have to come with him to the station. They said they just wanted to talk and made me go with them to the station with them. I resisted but didn't want trouble and went with them," he adds.
However, what happened next in the Arumuganeri station, says Hajeeb, was hours of 'torture'.
"They asked how I dared to blow smoke on a lady officer's face and they started thrashing me. Four male officers in total were assaulting me in the station," says Hajeeb. "They made me sit down and stood on my thighs repeatedly. Then they took plastic pipes and hit me on the back and buttocks. One of the policemen even kicked me in the face with his boots on," he adds.
After the assault, Habeeb says he was forced to sign blank sheets of paper in the police station and asked to leave. The auto driver recalls how he had come with multiple bruises back to the house.
"We were shocked and took him to a private hospital the next morning because he was in too much pain," says Jamal, Hajeeb's grandfather. "They refused to admit him there because it was an assault and then we went to a government hospital in Kayalpattinam," he added.
At the Kayalpattinam government hospital, the accident register clearly cites injuries on Habeeb's thighs. Under 'Nature of injury and treatment' it states, "Alleged assault by 4 unknown (male) on 9/6/20 at 11.30 am . H/O injury with plastic pipe buttocks/thigh in Arumuganeri police station'.
The document has been signed by the Medical officer and the intimation register too records the injuries as a result of 'Assault'.
"The hospital then called the police to inform them that an assaulted patient had come and they also called the emergency ambulance service to shift Habeeb to the Thoothukudi government hospital. But before we could leave a few police officers arrived there, " says Jamal.
Upon arriving, they allegedly threatened the family against complaining against the police and demanded that Habeeb's parents sign blank sheets of paper.
"Habeeb's mother refused to do this but the police sent back the ambulance and told us to go home," says Jamal. "We have now come to another private hospital, " he adds.
Habeeb was then told that he had sustained injuries in his kidney.
"My father is a clerk in a hospital and my wife and mother don't work. Now, I am unable to go to work as well. Every session of dialysis costs Rs.6000-7000," says Habeeb. "I don't know how much longer we can afford the treatment," he adds.
The family says it was afraid to open up about the incident earlier but is seeking justice now.
"They have brutally beaten up my grandson and the whole family is suffering for it," says Jamal. "What they did is wrong and they must not be allowed to get away with it." he adds.
TNM has reached out to the Thoothukudi Superintendent of police for comment on the allegation and will update the story when he responds.