Rajkumar,‌ ‌Jayaraj‌, ‌Bennix‌: How‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌failed‌ ‌‌these three custodial‌ death victims ‌

There‌ ‌is‌ ‌a ‌common‌ ‌thread‌ ‌between‌ ‌the‌ ‌three‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌that‌ ‌has‌ ‌now‌ ‌emerged‌ ‌—‌ ‌negligence‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌who‌ ‌failed‌ ‌to‌ ‌report‌ ‌the‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌torture‌ ‌when‌ ‌the‌ cops ‌brought‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌hospital.
Rajkumar,‌ ‌Jayaraj‌, ‌Bennix‌: How‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌failed‌ ‌‌these three custodial‌ death victims ‌
Rajkumar,‌ ‌Jayaraj‌, ‌Bennix‌: How‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌failed‌ ‌‌these three custodial‌ death victims ‌

On‌ ‌June‌ ‌22‌ ‌and‌ ‌23,‌ ‌2020,‌ ‌P‌ ‌Jayaraj‌ ‌and‌ ‌his‌ ‌son‌ ‌J‌ ‌Bennix‌ ‌were‌ ‌brutally‌ ‌tortured‌ ‌to‌ ‌death‌ ‌while‌ ‌in‌ ‌police‌ ‌custody‌ ‌in‌ ‌Tamil‌ ‌Nadu.‌ ‌Exactly‌ ‌a‌ ‌year‌ ‌prior,‌ ‌49-year-old‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌died‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌custody‌ ‌of‌ ‌Nedumkandam‌ ‌police‌ ‌in‌ ‌Kerala’s‌ ‌Idukki‌ ‌district‌ ‌on‌ ‌June‌ ‌21,‌ ‌2019.‌ ‌The‌ ‌police‌ ‌inflicted‌ ‌grave‌ ‌injuries‌ ‌on‌ ‌these‌ ‌victims, and‌ ‌denied‌ ‌them‌ their ‌basic‌ ‌human‌ ‌rights and dignity.‌ ‌There‌ ‌is‌ ‌another‌ ‌common‌ ‌thread‌ ‌between‌ ‌the‌ ‌three‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌that‌ ‌has‌ ‌now‌ ‌emerged‌ ‌—‌ ‌negligence‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌who‌ ‌failed‌ ‌to‌ ‌report‌ ‌the‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌torture‌ ‌when‌ ‌the‌ police‌ ‌brought‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌hospital‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌remand‌ ‌process.‌ ‌ ‌

 ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌Sathankulam‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌in‌ ‌Tamil‌ ‌Nadu,‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctor‌ ‌noted‌ ‌that‌ ‌both‌ ‌Jayaraj‌ ‌(58)‌ ‌and‌ ‌Bennix‌ ‌(31)‌ ‌had‌ ‌hypertension‌ ‌and‌ ‌multiple‌ ‌marks‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌gluteal‌ ‌region‌ ‌(buttocks).‌ ‌While‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctor‌ ‌asked‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌check-up‌ ‌later,‌ ‌he‌ ‌made no‌ ‌mention‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌bleeding‌‌ ‌from‌ ‌their‌ ‌buttocks‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌medical‌ ‌records.‌ ‌In‌ ‌Rajakumar’s‌ ‌case,‌ ‌the‌ ‌judicial‌ ‌commission‌ ‌headed‌ ‌by‌ ‌Justice‌ ‌K‌ Narayana‌ ‌Kurup‌ ‌found‌ ‌serious‌ ‌lapses‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌in‌ ‌three‌ ‌government‌ ‌hospitals‌ before‌ ‌he‌ ‌died‌ ‌in‌ ‌June‌ ‌2019.‌ ‌The‌ ‌report,‌ ‌which‌ ‌was‌ ‌tabled in the Kerala Assembly on June 6, 2021,‌ ‌says‌ ‌that‌ doctors‌ ‌at‌ ‌three‌ ‌hospitals‌ ‌failed‌ ‌to‌ ‌point out ‌custodial‌ ‌torture‌ ‌and‌ ‌save‌ ‌his‌ ‌life.‌ ‌ ‌

“The‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌in‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌three‌ ‌hospitals‌ ‌forgot‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌moment‌ ‌that‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌was‌ ‌brought‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ police‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌moribund‌ ‌condition‌ ‌after‌ ‌making‌ ‌him‌ ‌mincemeat,‌ ‌unable‌ ‌to‌ ‌walk,‌ ‌speak‌ ‌or‌ ‌move.‌ In such‌ ‌a‌ ‌scenario,‌ ‌they‌ ‌should‌ ‌have‌ ‌suspected‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌torture‌ ‌as‌ ‌borne‌ ‌out‌ ‌by‌ ‌his‌ ‌physical‌ condition,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌report‌ ‌states,‌ ‌criticising‌ ‌the‌ ‌‘callous‌ ‌and‌ ‌irresponsible‌ ‌behaviour’‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctors.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

The‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌at‌ ‌three‌ ‌government‌ ‌hospitals‌ ‌in‌ ‌Kerala‌ ‌—‌ ‌Taluk‌ ‌Health‌ ‌Quarter‌ ‌(THQ)‌ ‌hospital‌ Nedumkandam,‌ ‌THQ‌ ‌Peermade‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Kottayam‌ ‌Medical‌ ‌College‌ ‌Hospital‌ (MCH)‌ —‌ ‌overlooked‌ grave‌ ‌internal‌ ‌injuries,‌ ‌failing‌ ‌to‌ ‌diagnose‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌actual‌ ‌condition.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

The Nedumkandam police arrested Rajkumar, a small-time financier, on June 12, 2019, for a financial fraud case. On‌ ‌June‌ ‌15,‌ ‌after‌ ‌torturing‌ ‌him‌ ‌for‌ ‌almost‌ ‌three‌ ‌days‌ ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌custody,‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌took‌ Rajkumar‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nedumkandam‌ ‌taluk‌ ‌hospital,‌ ‌before‌ ‌producing‌ ‌him‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌magistrate.‌ On‌ ‌June‌ ‌18,‌ ‌as‌ ‌his‌ ‌health‌ ‌deteriorates‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌Peermade‌ ‌sub-jail,‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌take‌ ‌him‌ ‌to‌ Peermade‌ ‌taluk‌ ‌hospital‌ ‌and‌ ‌brought‌ ‌him‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌jail‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌day.‌ ‌On‌ ‌June‌ ‌19,‌ ‌they‌ ‌brought‌ him‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Kottayam‌ ‌Medical‌ ‌Colleg‌e ‌Hospital‌ ‌to‌ ‌consult‌ ‌a‌ ‌urologist.‌ ‌However,‌ ‌since‌ ‌no‌ ‌urologist‌ was‌ ‌available‌ ‌that‌ ‌day,‌ ‌they‌ ‌brought‌ ‌him‌ to ‌the‌ ‌MCH on‌ ‌June‌ ‌20.‌ ‌After‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌brought‌ ‌him‌ back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌jail,‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌taken‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Peermade‌ ‌taluk‌ ‌hospital‌ ‌again,‌ ‌on‌ ‌June‌ ‌21. The hospital declared‌ him ‌dead that night.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

All‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌permitted‌ ‌him‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌taken‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Peermade‌ ‌sub-jail‌ ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌finally‌ ‌died,‌ ‌says‌ the‌ ‌report.‌ ‌ ‌‌

In February 2021, ‌the‌ ‌Kerala‌ ‌government‌ ‌accepted‌ ‌the‌ ‌findings‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Justice‌ ‌Narayana‌ ‌Kurup‌ ‌Commission.‌ On June 1, in an action-taken report placed in the Assembly, ‌the‌ ‌Kerala‌ ‌government said that it will suspend and prosecute the six‌ ‌police‌ ‌officials‌ ‌who‌ ‌brutally‌ ‌assaulted‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌and‌ ‌caused‌ ‌his‌ ‌death. On June 7, the government ‌asked ‌the‌ ‌health‌ ‌secretary‌ ‌to‌ ‌probe‌ ‌and‌ ‌initiate‌ ‌disciplinary‌ ‌action‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌who‌ ‌examined‌ ‌Rajkumar.‌

Timeline‌ ‌of‌ ‌doctor‌ ‌visits‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

After‌ ‌spending‌ ‌three‌ ‌days‌ ‌in‌ ‌police‌ ‌custody,‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌was‌ ‌produced‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌taluk‌ ‌hospital‌ ‌in‌ ‌Nedumkandam‌ ‌on‌ ‌June‌ ‌15,‌ ‌2019,‌ ‌unable‌ ‌to‌ ‌walk‌ ‌or‌ ‌speak.‌ ‌Dr‌ ‌Vishnu‌ ‌Mohan,‌ ‌the‌ ‌casualty‌ medical‌ ‌officer‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌taluk‌ ‌hospital,‌ ‌advised‌ ‌that‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌be‌ ‌kept‌ ‌under‌ ‌observation,‌ ‌“even‌ after‌ ‌having‌ ‌suspected‌ ‌police‌ ‌assault,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌report‌ ‌says.‌ ‌ ‌

The‌ ‌following‌ ‌day,‌ ‌Rajkumar,‌ ‌who‌ ‌had‌ ‌already‌ ‌lost‌ ‌18‌ ‌hours,‌ ‌was‌ ‌examined‌ ‌by‌ ‌Dr‌ ‌Padmadev‌ PN.‌ ‌Without‌ ‌fully‌ ‌examining‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌body,‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctor‌ ‌issued‌ ‌a‌ ‌fitness‌ ‌certificate,‌ ‌allowing‌ ‌the‌ police‌ ‌to‌ ‌produce‌ ‌him‌ ‌before‌ ‌the‌ ‌judicial‌ ‌magistrate.‌ ‌Dr‌ ‌Padmadev‌ ‌later‌ ‌testified‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ commission‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌did‌ ‌not‌ ‌examine‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌body.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Had‌ ‌Dr‌ ‌Padmadev‌ ‌examined‌ ‌the‌ ‌backside‌ ‌of‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌body,‌ ‌he‌ ‌could‌ ‌have‌ ‌noticed‌ ‌the‌ injuries‌ ‌on‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌left‌ ‌thigh,‌ ‌trunk‌ ‌etc‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌nature‌ ‌of‌ ‌contusions,‌ ‌which‌ ‌would‌ ‌have‌ ‌made‌ him‌ ‌order‌ ‌tests‌ ‌to‌ ‌further‌ ‌unearth‌ ‌the‌ ‌victim’s‌ ‌real‌ ‌physical‌ ‌condition,‌ ‌the‌ ‌report‌ ‌observes.‌ ‌‌

From‌ ‌the‌ ‌taluk‌ ‌hospital,‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌was‌ ‌taken‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Judicial‌ ‌First‌ ‌Class‌ ‌Magistrate‌ ‌court,‌ Nedumkandam,‌ ‌where‌ ‌magistrate‌ ‌Rashmi‌ ‌Ravindran‌ saw ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌vehicle‌ ‌as‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌in‌ ‌no‌ ‌state‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌produced‌ ‌in‌ ‌court,‌ ‌the‌ ‌report‌ ‌states.‌ Although the police reportedly told the magistrate that the Rajkumar could not walk as he fell down, she did not physically examine him. It must also be noted that Rajkumar was produced before the Magistrate three days after the police nabbed him. According to Article 22(2) of the Indian Constitute and section 57 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), a person arrested without a warrant should be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours. However, the Kerala High Court found no lapses on the part of the magistrate. 

‌From‌ the court,‌ ‌the‌ ‌magistrate‌ ‌ordered‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌judicial‌ ‌custody‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌49-year-old‌ ‌was‌ ‌taken‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Peermade‌ ‌sub-jail‌ ‌on‌ ‌June‌ ‌16.‌ ‌As‌ ‌his‌ ‌condition‌ ‌worsened,‌ ‌prison‌ ‌officials‌ ‌took‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Peermade‌ ‌Taluk‌ ‌Hospital on June 18.‌ ‌Here,‌ ‌once‌ ‌again,‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌missed‌ ‌the‌ ‌tell-tale‌ ‌signs‌ ‌of‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌torture‌ ‌despite‌ ‌noticing ‌swelling‌ ‌on‌ his knees‌ ‌and‌ ‌ankles.‌ ‌In‌ ‌six‌ ‌days,‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌had‌ ‌gained‌ eight kilos ‌due‌ ‌to‌ ‌excessive‌ ‌fluid‌ ‌inside‌ ‌his‌ ‌body‌ due to ‌serious‌ ‌internal‌ ‌wounds.‌ ‌ ‌‌

On ‌June‌ ‌20,‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌was‌ ‌taken‌ ‌to‌ ‌meet‌ ‌the‌ ‌urologist‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Kottayam‌ ‌Medical‌ College‌ ‌Hospital.‌ ‌Here‌, a team of four doctors from different departments examined him. According‌ ‌to‌ the‌ ‌commission’s‌ ‌findings, ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌had‌ ‌revealed‌ ‌to the doctors that‌ the police ‌had assaulted him. 

The doctors, however, ‌failed‌ ‌to‌ ‌detect‌ any ‌grave‌ ‌internal‌ ‌injuries, and only did‌ an X-ray ‌and‌ ‌ultrasound‌ tests. The tests did not ‌reveal‌ ‌the acute‌ ‌kidney‌ ‌injury‌ ‌due‌ ‌to‌ ‌the ‌bloated‌ ‌state,‌ ‌the‌‌ report‌ ‌adds.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Casual‌ ‌post-mortem‌ ‌ ‌ 

Not‌ ‌only‌ ‌did‌ ‌the‌ ‌doctors‌ ‌fail‌ ‌Rajkumar‌ ‌while‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌alive,‌ but the‌ ‌report also ‌states‌ ‌that‌ doctors‌ ‌Jameskutty‌ ‌BK,‌ ‌deputy‌ ‌police‌ ‌surgeon, ‌and‌ ‌Subiraj‌ ‌Natarajan‌, medical‌ ‌officer‌, ‌did‌ ‌a‌ ‌“casual,‌ perfunctory‌ ‌and‌ ‌amateurish”‌ ‌job‌ ‌of‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌autopsy ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Kottayam‌ MCH‌. The initial postmortem report ‌remained‌ ‌silent‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌major‌ ‌contusions‌ ‌on‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌body‌, ‌on‌ ‌his‌ ‌left‌ ‌thigh‌ ‌and‌ ‌trunk. It mentioned pneumonia as the cause of death. However, the actual injuries and their severity were revealed‌ only ‌in‌ the ‌second‌ ‌post‌-‌mortem‌ ‌done‌ ‌upon‌ ‌the‌ ‌Commission’s‌ ‌orders.‌ ‌ ‌‌

A‌ ‌similar‌ ‌story‌ ‌in‌ ‌Sathankulam‌ ‌custodial death 

The‌ ‌negligence‌ ‌in‌ ‌Rajkumar’s‌ ‌case‌ ‌is‌ ‌eerily‌ ‌similar‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌infamous‌ ‌Sathankulam‌ ‌custodial‌ ‌death‌ ‌case‌ ‌in‌ ‌Tamil‌ ‌Nadu,‌ ‌where‌ ‌father-son‌ ‌duo‌ ‌Jayaraj‌ ‌and‌ ‌Bennix‌ ‌bled‌ ‌to‌ ‌death‌ in Kovilpatti hospital ‌after‌ ‌enduring‌ ‌brutal‌ ‌torture‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌police. The ‌Sathankulam‌ police in Thoothukudi district arrested ‌Jayaraj‌ ‌and‌ ‌Bennix‌‌ ‌on‌ ‌June‌ ‌19,‌ ‌2020,‌ ‌for‌ ‌allegedly‌ ‌keeping‌ ‌their‌ ‌shop‌ ‌open‌ ‌beyond‌ the ‌lockdown‌ period.‌ ‌‌

Jail‌ ‌records‌ ‌at‌ ‌Kovilpatti‌ note ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌father‌ ‌and‌ ‌son‌ ‌had‌ ‌injuries‌when they were brought to sub-jail on ‌June‌ ‌20,‌ ‌the‌ ‌day‌ ‌after‌ they were arrested. ‌‌Dr Venilla ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌Sathankulam‌ ‌Taluk‌ ‌hospital, who‌ examined‌ ‌the‌ ‌two‌ ‌men‌, ‌recorded‌ ‌all‌ ‌injuries‌, ‌including‌ ‌abrasion ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌gluteal‌ ‌region‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌size‌ 2x3‌ ‌centimetres.‌ ‌However,‌ ‌the doctor ‌did‌ ‌not‌ ‌find‌ ‌the‌ ‌injuries‌ ‌serious‌ ‌enough‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌them‌ admitted.‌ As per her examination, there ‌were‌ ‌no‌ ‌bleeding‌ ‌injuries,‌ ‌anal‌ ‌tears‌ ‌or‌ ‌lacerations‌ on both victims.‌ ‌She issued the health certificate for Jayaraj and Bennix. ‌According to the head of the Tamil Nadu government doctors' Association, there was no pressure on the doctor to tone down the nature of the injuries sustained by Jayaraj and Bennix.

However,‌ ‌several‌ ‌eyewitnesses‌ ‌had‌ ‌contradicted‌ ‌this‌, stating ‌that‌ ‌the‌ policemen tortured the ‌two‌ ‌men‌ in‌ the ‌Sathankulam‌ ‌police‌ ‌station‌.‌ ‌Jayaraj‌ ‌and‌ ‌Bennix’s‌ ‌family‌ ‌and‌ ‌friends‌ ‌had‌ ‌also‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌to‌ ‌TNM‌ ‌earlier‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌duo‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌change‌ ‌their‌ ‌shirt‌ ‌and‌ ‌lungi‌ ‌multiple‌ ‌times‌ ‌on‌ ‌June‌ ‌20,‌ ‌before‌ ‌they‌ ‌went‌ to ‌the‌ ‌hospital‌ ‌for the mandated medical check-up and‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌judicial‌ ‌magistrate’s‌ ‌office‌since‌ ‌their‌ clothes‌ ‌were‌ ‌soaked‌ ‌in‌ ‌blood.‌ Sathankulam Magistrate D Saravanan, too, failed to carry out a physical inspection of Jayaraj and Bennix before remanding them to police custody. ‌

The‌ ‌iceberg‌ ‌phenomenon‌ ‌ ‌

When the ‌Justice‌ ‌Narayana‌ ‌Kurup‌ Commission submitted the inquiry report to the Kerala government, it made a critical suggestion. Henceforth, all ‌medical‌ ‌officers‌ ‌must‌ thoroughly‌ ‌examine‌ ‌all‌ suspects brought‌ by the ‌police‌,‌ ‌‌check ‌for‌ ‌internal‌ ‌injury,‌ carry out ‌ultrasound‌ ‌tests‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌underbelly‌ ‌region,‌ ‌do creatine phosphokinase (CPK),‌ ‌urine‌ ‌myoglobin‌ ‌and‌ ‌C-reactive protein (CRP‌) ‌tests‌ ‌on‌ the‌ ‌person(s).‌ ‌This,‌ ‌the‌ ‌report‌ ‌says,‌ is ‌to‌ ‌rule‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌iceberg‌ ‌phenomenon,‌ ‌which‌ ‌describes‌ ‌a‌ ‌clinical‌ ‌situation‌ ‌where‌ ‌a‌ ‌large‌ ‌percentage‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌problem‌ ‌is‌ ‌hidden‌ ‌from‌ ‌the view or unreported, and so, only the tip of the iceberg will be visible. 

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