My husband’s and son’s deaths should be the last: Selvarani on Thoothukudi custodial deaths trial

The trial in the June custodial deaths of father and son, P Jeyaraj and J Bennicks, at Sathankulam in Tamil Nadu’s (TN) Thoothukudi district, is set to begin on Wednesday at the Madurai sessions court.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has been probing the case since July after taking over from Tamil Nadu Police’s Crime-Branch Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID), has charge sheeted nine policemen for wrongful confinement and murder, among other charges, under relevant sections of the India Penal Code.

Jeyaraj’s wife Selvarani, who lived with her husband and son Bennicks, has moved in with her elder daughter Percys to Puliyangudi, where the TN government offered her a job in the state revenue department on compassionate grounds.

Jeyaraj is survived by three married daughters, sons-in-law and their children.

Also Read: Thoothukudi custodial deaths: CBI charge sheet details six hours of inhumane torture

Selvarani vividly remembers the sequence of events on June 19 before her husband was taken to police custody.

“An hour before my husband was taken to police custody, he rushed home with a packet of milk. He told me that he would go to the shop and relieve Bennicks and we could have tea together,” recounted Selvarani.

“I sat on the street along with a few neighbours waiting for them until early morning the following day,” she said.

Police had picked up Jeyaraj in the evening on June 19 from his mobile phone shop and Bennicks followed him to the Sathankulam police station to seek his father’s release. The father and son were tortured by the policemen through the night.

Their alleged crime was violation of lockdown restrictions, which were enforced to contain the spread of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

Sevlarani spoke to them over the phone the next day while they were being taken to a court.

“Amma (mother)…those were the last words I heard from my son,” said Selvarani.

She asked Bennicks if the police hit him, but he couldn’t answer and passed on the phone to his father. She also asked her husband the same question. “It’s all over now. Let’s not talk about it. Take your brother’s help to get us bail and you move in with him,” house,” she recalled Jeyaraj’s message to her.

Bennicks succumbed to his injuries on June 22, and Jeyaraj the next morning.

Selvarani all along believed during those four horrific days — between June 19 and 23 – that her husband and son would return home while she packed a change of clothes for them.

“My husband always wore a white shirt and veshti. I did not know that his clothes would be soaked in blood,” said Selvarani while sobbing disconsolately about her irreparable loss.

Her friends and lawyers, known to the family, had wanted to click photographs and make videos of their bloodstained clothes as tell-tale evidence, but she decided against it in a bid to steer clear of any confrontation with the police.

“They were innocents. I just wanted them to come back to me. We would have taken care of their injuries,” she said.

The family was preparing for Bennicks’ wedding in December.

“We are a normal family. We had started buying clothes for our grandchildren (her daughters’ children) for the joyous occasion in December in a staggered manner since we were hard up for cash,” she said.

“Bennicks never used to go to bed without speaking to his nieces and nephews. Now, the children point to photographs in the newspapers and say thatha (grandfather) and mama (uncle),” she reminisced.

Jeyaraj would routinely call his three daughters, who live in separate cities and towns in TN, thrice daily. “Now, I follow the same routine. We miss them so much. The unbearable pain will never go away,” she added.

Jeyaraj’s youngest son-in-law Vinoth Kumar, who lives in Chennai, is yet to live down the trauma.

“It’s horrifying, when we hear the gory details such as how they were made to clean their own blood,” he said.

“It’s not like they had died in a road accident or due to some serious ailments,” he added.

Selvarani wants the accused policemen to be brought to book.

“We cannot get them (Jeyaraj and Bennicks) back, but we must get justice,” she said.

“Custodial deaths should end with my husband and son. It shouldn’t happen to anybody else. Their sacrifices will have a meaning, if custodial deaths end in this country,” she added.

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