Just off Chennai’s IT Corridor, policemen stand every 200 metres at Kannagi Nagar in Thoraipakkam. But for residents of this colony, the men in khaki are sometimes more than just law enforcers. They are very often perceived a threat especially, to the young men in the neighbourhood.
The heightened police presence in this colony comes days after a gang set ablaze nine motorcycles at the Kannagi Nagar police station. The incident followed the death of 24-year-old Karthik, a suspect in a chain snatching case. While police claim that the young suspect succumbed to the injuries he suffered during the chain snatching, Karthik’s family call it a case of custodial torture leading to his death.
A resettlement area for those affected by the 2004 Tsunami, Kannagi Nagar has since grown in size housing over 15000 families with more houses being constructed.
A police station was set up in 2010. Fifty-year-old Shanthi, a vegetable seller believes that crimes and other problems have reduced in Kannagi Nagar because of the police presence. “Six years ago, Kannagi Nagar was full of ‘rowdies’, we were scared of even walking on the streets, but now, the police questions whomever there is a complaint against,” she said.
But she claims that the interrogation often borders on custodial torture, saying it was wrong on the part of the police to torture suspects. “Police interrogates people for petty issues also, for driving the vehicle too fast or not having a license,” she noted.
For the residents of Kannagi Nagar, Karthik’s case, however, isn’t the first such incident of its kind. In March, a 17-year-old Dalit boy was illegally taken into police custody and allegedly tortured in what was believed to be a case of mistaken identity. The boy, also a resident of Kannagi Nagar, was picked up at night by policemen for allegedly stealing a mobile phone and then allegedly beaten up for two hours, until they realised they had the wrong man. “The death has led to too much tension in the area now,” Shanthi said.
Shayada another vendor said that other young men suffer because of certain ‘rowdies’. “Police interrogates everyone they suspect. The rowdies earlier used to sell alcohol and drugs on the roads, but all that has stopped after police checks,” she said.
Venkat*, a Kannagi Nagar resident said while many people have part-time jobs in the neighbourhood, nearly half of them are part of gangs and commit thefts. “Once a person shows identity cards, police leaves them. But because of these gangs, the other half also suffers,” he said.
“The ‘Kannagi Nagar’ tag is enough for us not to get a job,” claimed Ambika*, another vendor. “Police is always patrolling at night. It was peaceful for the last one year and now it has again become violent after this Karthik case,” she observed.
Elamathi, (45), a daily wage worker believes that gangs from other parts of the city such as Pudupet have moved to the neighbourhood, sparking trouble. “They get drunk and create a brawl, they wound each other with knives. It is not even safe for girls to walk around in this area,” she stated.
Speaking to The News Minute, a source from the Kannagi Police Station said that most are petty cases like drunk people creating a brawl or theft. Asked about the custodial death, he said that in very few cases, custodial death happens.
*Names changed on request.