Police personnel from three stations in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district had detained Prabhakar and his wife Amshala, who are from Salem district, on alleged charges of theft.

Silhouette of a man: TN Dalit man detained by cops dies, family alleges torture and illegal detentionImage for representation | Picxy
news Custodial Violence Monday, January 17, 2022 - 13:49

On the afternoon of January 8, a team of police officials from three police stations from Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district forced their way into Prabhakar and Amshala’s house. Prabhakar, a man with disability belonging to the Adi Dravidar (Scheduled Caste) community, was living with his wife Amshala (from Scheduled Tribe) in Salem’s Karuppur. According to Prabhakar’s brother Sakthivel who witnessed the incident, the couple were verbally abused and beaten up in their house.

The police from Namakkal’s Puthuchathiram, Tiruchengode and Senthamangalam stations had arrived at Prabhakar’s doorstep in connection to a jewellery theft case. Prabhakar was taken away to Namakkal, where he was lodged in a sub-jail. Four days later, on January 12, he was dead. Amid allegations of custodial torture, three police officers — Poonkodi, Kulanthaivel and A Chandran — have been suspended. But for Prabhakar’s family, there are more questions than there are answers at this point, and justice seems far away.

In the FIR filed by the Salem City police, Sakthivel’s complaint said that the Namakkal police hauled Prabhakar and Amshala out of their house. “Amshala was dragged by her hair. They beat them again in front of the house. The commotion brought neighbours to the street, who cried out in dismay that a man with disability was being beaten up. They [the police] threatened the crowd saying, ‘We will do worse things if you all don’t keep quiet,’” he alleged in the FIR, which was filed under CrPC section 176 (inquiry by magistrate into cause of death).

According to Sakthivel’s statement, the Karuppur police in Salem reached the spot on being alerted about the commotion. They took custody of Prabhakar and Amshala, saying that they were being taken to the Karuppur station. However, Sakthivel alleged that he found the couple neither at the Karuppur station nor at any court in Salem and Namakkal. After two days of futile search, Prabhakar’s son filed a missing persons complaint online on January 10.

On the night of January 12, the family received a call from persons who identified themselves as police. “They told us that my brother was battling for his life at the Government Mohan Kumaramangalam Medical College and Hospital in Salem,” Sakthivel said in the FIR.

When they reached the hospital and attempted to find out what had transpired, they found that Amshala had apparently been remanded at the women’s prison in Salem, and that Prabhakar was at the Namakkal sub-jail the previous day — January 11, Sakthivel said. When Prabhakar’s condition deteriorated, Sakthivel stated, he was taken to the Salem General Hospital, where he later died.

Later, Naavarasan, the Salem zonal organisational secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), shared a video with TNM of Amshala narrating the horrific events on January 8.

“SI Chandran (one of the suspended officers) beat both of us. My husband, who was on the floor, kept saying he cannot walk and denied any role in the theft. Chandran told me ‘Police na kombu nu theriyutha?’ [Don’t you know how powerful we, the police, are?],” the woman can be heard saying in the video.

She added that Chandran “was in mufti [plain clothes]” as she describes the extent of violence he inflicted on them. She also mentioned that an SI from Namakkal, named Sagayam, kicked Prabhakar. At the time of filing this story, Sagayam’s name did not feature in the list of police officials suspended.

The woman further said, “The police kept demanding ‘accept that you have the jewellery’. Why would I do that? How could my husband walk somewhere to steal jewellery?”

VCK has been leading the protests demanding the suspension of all officers concerned. With regard to the theft case, Naavarasan noted, “Prabhakar can’t even walk. His legs lost their function slowly, over the years. Why subject him to this?”

TNM has not been able to independently verify the charges against Prabhakar and Amshala yet, as the police declined to comment. The Namakkal Superintendent of Police disconnected this reporter’s call when asked about Prabhakar’s death.

When TNM contacted the DIG of Salem, he passed the buck to the Namakkal SP. An officer at the Senthamangalam station also had no clear answers and directed us to speak to the SP. TNM will add the response from the Salem and Namakkal police forces, if and when they react.

Speaking to TNM, human rights activist and lawyer Henri Tiphagne, who is closely following the case, pointed out that the presence of police personnel from different stations in Namakkal district indicate that a special team had been formed. “They crossed into a different district (Salem) and took Prabhakar and Amshala away. Were the Salem police not informed beforehand? Why are they acting as if they were catching terrorists? Whatever the case against the couple, this was clearly illegal detention and torture. Prabhakar might have died in the hospital, but his death was caused by police action,” he alleged.

Tiphagne also told TNM that incidents of police crossing into other districts and “creating havoc” occurs all too often. “I’m glad that three officers have been suspended and an FIR has been filed. But much more needs to happen. It’s impossible that the Namakkal SP was unaware that a team from his district was going to Salem,” he said, adding the inquiry should be transferred to the CB-CID.

“The state government needs to give monetary compensation and a job to Amshala. And the Chief Minister needs to pay heed to the number of custodial deaths and encounter killings occurring in Tamil Nadu. This is the third custodial death just since this year began; the police answer to the CM,” he pointed out.

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