430 days and counting: Kerala man awaits justice for brother who died in police custody

"My brother's death is testimony to how the police, who we think are the custodians of truth, can turn around and kill its own people."
430 days and counting: Kerala man awaits justice for brother who died in police custody
430 days and counting: Kerala man awaits justice for brother who died in police custody
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When Thiruvananathapuram-native Sreejith received a call from the Prassala police on May 21, 2014 informing that his younger brother Sreejeev had been admitted to the hospital following his “suicide attempt” at the police station, he uttered a silent prayer hoping that he would not witness a repeat of what happened 25 years ago.

In 1991, when Sreejith was only two years old, his father Sreedharan, who used to work at a toddy shop coughed up blood for a few minutes and never woke up again. This was forty days after the police had picked him up and thrashed him, along with several other workers at the toddy shop.

Sreejith's worst fears came true when he rushed to the hospital with his mother Remani to see his brother. 

"My brother was lying on the bed, with injuries to several parts of his body. He was clearly beaten up by the police...we could see that. But the police did not let him speak to us. I know he wanted to tell us something, but he wasn't allowed to," Sreejith recalls, as he lay on a small carpet neatly placed on the footpath outside the secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram.

Resting his head on a tattered pillow, Sreejith has spent the last 430 days on the footpath, awaiting justice for his brother Sreejeev. On January 30, Sreejith intensified the protest by going on a fast unto death. Posters that speak of his struggle and his perseverance to get justice for his late brother, adorn the red walls of the secretariat. 

"They (police) deliberately killed him, he had wounds on his body when we met him at the hospital. The police kept telling us that he consumed poison to take his own life. My brother used to do minor mobile phone repairing and servicing. The police claimed that they took him to custody in a case related to mobile theft," Sreejith said.  

Sreejeev passed away a day later on May 22, 2014. 

"A girl in our neighbourhood, who he was involved with, was to get married and the police correctly picked him up a day ahead of her marriage on May 21. This girl was a relative of one of the police officers involved in killing my brother," Sreejith alleges. 

Days after Sreejeev's death

The days following his brother's death were devastating for the family of three. Sreejith says that the family did not know enough to even raise objection to his brother's death. 

With the help of some neighbours, the family filed a complaint with the state DGP, human rights commission and the State Police Complaints Authority, a few weeks after Sreejeev's death. 

"We come from a normal family...we come from a small town and never thought that the police, who are supposed to protect the people, will turn killers. And so we did not even know where to raise our concerns," Sreejith says. 

A year later in May 2015, Sreejith launched his protest outside the secretariat, demanding action against the officials responsible for his brother's death.

Two years since Sreejeev’s death, in May 2016, the State Police Complaints Authority headed by Justice Narayana Kurup found the police version to be false and came to the conclusion that Sreejeev had indeed died of custodial torture. The home department then proceeded to form a special investigation team to probe into the case. 

A few months after the intervention of the human rights commission, the family received Rs 10 lakh compensation. But what the family was looking for was nothing but justice for Sreejeev. 

"They might have thought that they can write us off by giving compensation. But no, we did not fight this long for money. We want the CI, the ASI to face legal action for killing my brother. One of them is now serving as a DYSP. The government and its numerous departments have turned a deaf ear to our issues," Sreejith rues. 

Sreejith's voice is weak and he has to take pauses before he starts talking again. 

"My throat runs too dry nowadays," he tries to explain. 

Sreejith recalls how his repeated approaches to the previous Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, and current CM Pinarayi Vijayan were met with hollow assurances. 

"My brother's death is a testimony to how the police, who we think are the custodians of truth, can turn around and kill its own people. My struggle is a testimony to the government apathy towards a life lost in police brutality. It's been more than two years since my brother's death, but we will not stop our protest until the officers are punished," Sreejith says. 

On other days, Sreejith would wait for his mother to visit him with some food to fill his belly. But ever since he began his hunger strike, he has chosen to lie down and stare at the vehicles and many faces that go past him. 

(All photographs by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)

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