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Two recent happenings, apparently unconnected, have jolted the conscience of Tamilnadu. One: the deplorable judgment from the High Court, Chennai, in the Criminal Appeal case related to the notorious caste-honor killing of Udumalai Shankar. Two: the double murder of the father-son duo of the two merchants, Jayaraj and Bennicks by the police in Sathankulam, Thootthukkudi District.

Madras HC and KowsalyaIt was the caste supremacists who carried out the murder of Shankar as they could not tolerate the love and inter-caste marriage of Udumalai Shankar and Kowsalya. In broad daylight and in the middle of a busy road near the Bus Station, Udumalaippettai, the mercenary assassins attacked Shankar and Kowsalya with daggers, Shankar succumbed to his injuries while Kowsalya survived after very intensive treatment.

It was known to all concerned that it was Kowsalya’s parents who had conspired and carried out this cold-blooded murder. Kowsalya herself was very clear that her parents were the prime culprits. She also gave evidence to that effect during the trial.

The Thiruppur District and Sessions Court gave its verdict on the 12th of December 2017 convicting and sentencing six of the accused including Chinnasamy, father of Kowsalya, to death. But Kowsalya’s mother Annalakshmi and uncle Pandithurai, and one Prasanna were acquitted of the charges and set free.

The case moved on to the High Court as on the one hand the convicts went on appeal against their conviction and on the other the state went on appeal against the acquittal of three. The High Court has just given its verdict, whereby the state’s appeals have been turned down and the acquittal of three confirmed.

But Kousdalya’s father Chinnasamy from among the death convicts has totally succeeded in his appeal from his conviction and sentence. Yes, he has been set free, absolutely free. For the remaining five, the capital punishment has been reduced to imprisonment for life with a proviso that they would undergo a minimum of 25 years of actual imprisonment.

 The Sessions Court’s acquittal of Kowsalya’s mother Annalakshmi and uncle Pandithurai at the trial stage, and now the High court’s acquittal of Kowsalya’s father Chinnasamy on appeal, all put together, have uprooted the whole logic of the case. If Kowsalya’s parents and uncle were not behind the murder, the question arises as to who else could have set the mercenaries on and for what purpose.

This society of castes in which we all live looks down upon love as an unmitigated felony and we have seen any number of cases where it has no qualms about resorting to murder as a punishment for the same.

The caste supremacists metamorphose into hunting beasts when they are faced with any inter-caste wedding, in particular with a Dalit. Caste-honor goes to their head so much so that parents themselves put their dear daughter to death. Not only does this caste-honor turn into the cutting blade of the dagger of the marauder and the brass top of the police baton, it also finds its way into the green ink of His Lordship’s pen.

Going from the brightly-lit majestic halls of the High Court, Chennai, which, in the ultimate analysis, put the approving stamp of jurisprudence on caste-honor manslaughter, to the dark lock-up cell of the Sathankulam police station, it is rather a Discovery of India, showing another ugly face of the systemic repression that goes by the name of India.

In Sathankulam, Thootthukkudi district, Jayaraj and his son Bennicks were both kidnapped and killed by the police. They were both merchants whose alleged ‘crime’ was nothing more than keeping their shops open beyond the time stipulated as per Corona lockdown orders.

A jungle raj by the police has been lording over Tamilnadu ever since the so-called Janata Curfew took effect and the lockdown set in. Video recordings went viral of the cops wielding their sticks on pedestrians and two-wheeler riders without waiting to hear any explanation. The rule of the baton did not even spare places of worship like temples or mosques. The few lawyers who simply cited the illegality of such police action and pointed out that instead the police could register a case and even arrest, were openly denounced.

In one such incident a young man, apparently quite irrepressible, who mockingly questioned the authority of the police and of the Chief Minister was taken to the Police station and thrashed. What is more, he was video-graphed crying and wailing in pain and begging to spare him. The police itself shot this video and rejoiced in viralizing it far and wide. This behavior on the part of the police officials was evidently out of legal bounds and clearly abhorrent. It was but a display of depraved sadist minds. Yet the Government did not even respond nominally. The judiciary was also a silent spectator to all this dance of unchecked police power. If it had then itself pulled up the police for this khaki unlawfulness, such outrages as the Sathankulam double murders could have been avoided.

The police have kidnapped, thrashed and tortured to death the father and son duo. Only after the public came to the streets in protest and demanded justice, the higher officer has slowly and softly suspended the two culprit police personnel.

What really happened was: the police inspector Raghu Ganesh is said to have a wordy altercation with Jayaraj about closing shop on the 19th of June. The next day Jayaraj was arrested and taken to the police station. When anyone is arrested, he should be informed of the reason for his arrest. An arrest memo should be given to one close to him. This is a Supreme Court directive. But no such procedure was adhered to when the police dragged Jayaraj to the Station. On this his son Bennicks went to see him at the police station. There before his very eyes the Inspector Sridhar and Sub-Inspectors Raghu Ganesh and Balakrishnan and other cops beat Jayaraj black and blue. Bennicks is said to have questioned this outrage.

How can they put up with anyone entering their fortress to question their authority? They were enraged and pounced predator-like upon Bennicks. They tied him up and thrashed him for hours. As a form of torture an iron rod was inserted into his anus causing profuse bleeding.

Both Jayaraj and Bennicks were booked under false charges and formally arrested, The First Information Report and other documents were got ready and they were sent for remand. The Sat(h)an(kulam) Magistrate, with eyes and ears closed, just like that remanded them to custody. On the 21st both the accused were locked up in the Kovilpatti Sub-jail.

In spite of the fact that there were sub-jails in nearby Thiruvaikundam and Thiruchendur and a District Prison in Porurani, there is no explanation for having taken them to Kovipatti, 90 kilometers away. The prison officials neither inquired about the injuries on their persons, nor cared to refer them to hospital.

Bennicks told his friends who came to see him in prison how he was still bleeding due to the torture of an iron rod having been inserted into his anus. On the night of the 22nd Bennicks was said to have fainted with chest pain and taken to the Kovilpatti hospital. The doctors declared him brought dead.

At the same time Bennicks’ father Jayaraj was taken to hospital with a complaint of chest pain and died within a few hours of his son’s death. People from Sathankulam and Peykkulam areas came to the streets to protest against the double murder of father and son. The Merchants’ Association, along with the various political parties and Community organizations and lawyers came out massively to raise their voice for justice.

Sathunkulam PoliceThe demand was to arrest and imprison the police officers involved on the charge of murder. Merchants downed shutters in protest against the killings. People assembled in large numbers defying the Corona lockdown. Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly issued statements of condemnation.

Even after all this the police high command just transferred the two killer-police officers to the Armed Police wing. May be for the beasts tired after their brutal act to take the much-needed rest? Yet the masses could not be cowed down and the Superintendent of Police Arunbala Gopalan has at last condescended to keep them under suspension.

The rolling-on-the-ground (angaptadhakshanam) explanation given by the killer-police that they had asked for downing the shutters, but the father and the son rolled on the floor thereby injuring themselves is a sign of the fat overflowing their khaki uniforms.

Suppose Jayaraj and Bennicks had killed the two police officers in self-defense, would this transfer or suspension suffice as punishment? Isn’t it law that if the police kill the public or the public kill the police both are one and the same offence of murder? Attracting the same punishment?

If the judicial Magistrate who remanded both Jayaraj and Bennicks had inquired them about the injuries, he could have referred them to the hospital instead of sending them to prison. He did not even ask them whether the accused had been informed of the charges against them. Is a Judge in black gown needed for signing on dotted lines as dictated by the police?

It is clear that the police, the judiciary and the prison department have abetted the crime of double murder. Only because the masses came out to protest despite the lockdown, these facts have seen the light of day.

It is welcome that the Madurai branch of the High Court has suo motu taken this case on file. But if the Honorable Justices cannot go beyond advising the state and the police, gently criticizing them and requesting them to take care to behave better in the future, if in this case in particular, they cannot order the arrest and imprisonment of the killer-criminals and their prosecution for murder it is better they keep quite without dousing the fire.

The high judiciary itself lending a helping hand to caste-honor killing in the Udumlai Shankar murder case and the police itself being the culprit in the double murder of Jayaraj and Bennicks in Sathankulam – these two events cannot be considered as accidents or as individual aberrations of a few, if we take a cue from past experience.

 This is not the first time that the High Court comes to the rescue of the criminals in cases where oppressed and outcast human beings had been murdered. It is the same High Court which, in the Keezha Venmani case where 44 Dalits were burnt to death, acquitted rich landlords on the ground that they were rich landlords.

These Honorable Justices could not even pluck one quill off the police vultures that entered the High Court premises on the 19th of February 2009 and unleashed a brutal lathi-charge for hours and beat up, and broke the heads of, advocates including a judge. Are these lordships going to rescue people from the police beasts?

The world is changing. Oh, repressors, your time is coming to an end! Derek Chauvin and three other white cops who assisted him in kneeling on the neck to kill George Floyd in the city of Minneapolis, USA have been imprisoned and charged with the offence of intentional murder.

Just as the American Nation boiled for George Floyd, our Tamil Nation should boil for Jayaraj and Bennicks. Just as Derek Chauvin was repudiated by his wife, these Sathankulam killer-cops should be boycotted by their own kith and kin. Just as four police officials were arrested and imprisoned in the George Floyd murder case, police officials including Sridhar, Raghu Ganesh and Balakrishnan should be arrested and imprisoned on charges of kidnap and murder in the Jayaraj and Bennicks double murder case.

Just as the Minneapolis police department has been disbanded, the Tamilnadu police may well be dissolved. Haven’t its lungs been declared rotten a long time ago?

The Governemnt of Tamilnadu should not think its duty to be over in Udumalai Shankar murder case and prefer an appeal to the Supreme Court of India and secure severe punishment as per law for all the criminals including Cinnasamy and Annalakshmi.

We join voices with Comrade Kowsalya in demanding the enactment of a law in the name of Shankar against caste-honor crimes.

The Republic of India is, to quote Anand Teltumbde, is a republic of castes. It is a fact that caste reigns in every bio-cell of Indian and Tamilnadu society. It is a big enough fact. To hide this fact in your discourse is a great service to casteism!

There have been several cases of caste-honor killings and heinous crimes even after Uduamalai. It is learnt that in the Corona lockdown period alone four such murders have occurred. Progressive forces should take special interest in enabling inter-caste marriages and protecting the couples. Such initiatives as Kadhal Aran (Save Love) should widen their scope.

It is a warning to us all that the caste supremacist forces are celebrating this horrible judgment of the High Court. We would like to warn them that we will not be relying on the police stations and the courts alone to protect love and those who rise in love. Let this judgment of the High Court serve as a negative spur to work for a mass uprising against caste-honor crimes and killings. When George Floyd was killed the banners of the struggle for justice read: BLACK LIVES MATTER!

Let us keep in mind: BLACK LIVES MATTER is a movement whose origin is traced to a protest against a court judgment.

An African-American, that is, black, teenager by name Trayvon Martin, was shot dead in February 2012. George Zimmarman, a white police officer was accused in this case, but he was acquitted by the court. It was to protest against this acquittal that BLACK LIVES MATTER trended viral as a hash-tag in social media. In subsequent years this blossomed into a nationwide movement against the killing of black youth. After the killing of George Floyd, it took wings of gale and went beyond Atlantic and Pacific shores to become global.

Both sides may prefer appeals before the Supreme Court. We cannot vouchsafe the final result. But if we can take a spark from this judgment itself to spread the fire of a movement, DALIT LIVES MATTER that could be the realization of the price of Shankar’s life. Black lives matter! Shankar’s life matters! Lives of Jayaraj and Bennicks matter! Let this slogan storm earth and heaven against caste atrocities and police atrocities!

- THIAGU, General Secretary, Tamil National Liberation Movement. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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