Over the last 24 hours, immense praise has poured in for the woman police official who has come forward as an eyewitness in the Sathankulam custodial deaths case. From film personalities to former bureaucrats, several people have hailed her as courageous for her decision to reveal details of assault against Jayaraj and Bennix to the Kovilpatti magistrate.
At her home in Sathankulam though, where the officer lives with her husband and two children, fear remains the dominant emotion.
"People are praising me but I didn't want any of this publicity," she tells TNM, referring to tweets and social media posts supporting her. "I did not want my statement to the magistrate to be put out in the public domain and I put this request to them specifically. I really don't want to be tortured by senior officials," she says.
The 37-year-old's statement appears in both the Kovilpatti magistrate's report to the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, and more importantly in the High Court's order, which is a public document. "I just told the magistrate the truth about what I saw in the station. But now I am scared of retaliation from senior officers for giving my statement," she adds.
When asked about the events of June 19, the woman officer says she witnessed the assault on both Bennix and Jayaraj and was present in the station through that night. In her statement to the magistrate, she said that the duo were assaulted by the police till the morning of June 20 and that lathis and tables were blood stained following the brutality. Based on her statement, the magistrate had collected the lathis of all police officers in Sathankulam station.
Considering how crucial her statement is to the case, the High Court directed that she be given necessary protection.
"I am worried that I am at risk. If they didn't put my name in the documents I would have been less scared. They told me they won't use my name, and since I heard they have used it, I have been very distressed," she says. "I have been relieved from the Sathankulam station but I don't want to report to the next station I have been posted to as of now," she adds.
Assurances from the district administration and Superintendent of police will help gain some confidence, the witness adds.
"I have given a letter to local authorities asking for police protection for myself and my husband, as well as a month off from work. I have been very disturbed," she says, "I need some time to gather myself."
TNM spoke to District Collector Sandeep Nanduri regarding the woman officer's request and he assured us that steps to ensure that she is comfortable are already underway.
"We are following the High Court's order to ensure that she gets protection. Two police constables are appointed for protection for her and her husband. In addition, we have also assured her that she will be given one month leave," he says.
Even in his report to the court, the magistrate clearly states that the woman constable was extremely afraid to give her statement and that he had taken several measures to make her feel safe and promise her protection to get her version recorded.
"I have told the magistrate everything," says the police official. "And now I just want to ensure safety for myself and my family."