Chennai: The deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix, who died after a grievous assault by police officers in Sattankulam in Southern Tamil Nadu, has put the spotlight on the checks and balances inherent in the criminal justice system after a suspected law violator is remanded to judicial custody, so that police brutality is called out before it is too late, and the injured are sent to the hospital.
The remand order given by the Sattankulam magistrate, and whether a physical examination was conducted before the order, have sharply come into focus. Questions are also being raised about the medical report prepared before producing the accused before the magistrate for custody, and whether the jailer at the Kovilpatti sub-jail should be sensitised to make decisions upon viewing the condition of wounds of new inmates.
Speaking to various medical and prison authorities who came in contact with Jayaraj and Bennix, we have pieced together the events that happened after their assault and before their death:
When Jayaraj and Bennix were examined by a doctor at the Kovilpatti sub-jail, the reaction from the medical professional was a mixture of puzzlement and shock. Both had suffered serious injuries on their backsides but their countenances revealed little about trauma. In fact, Bennix and Jayaraj were able to walk to the doctor's room in the Kovilpatti sub-jail from their cell, where they were lodged since Saturday. Bennix had sported a swollen knee, too.
"How could somebody with such wounds be normal?" was the question posed to the father-son duo, said people who were present during the medical examination around 10:30 am at the sub-jail on Monday. The medical examiner, then, went on to check the medical certificate obtained by the police from the Sattankulam Government Hospital to enable judicial custody for them. The report had recorded their wounds as "abrasions", a description the medical examiner at the Kovilpatti sub-jail disagreed with. The official changed it to "multiple hit marks in the gluteal region [relating to the gluteal muscles that make up the bottocks]..."
The doctors examining patients inside a jail are usually doubly cautious about hypertensive and diabetic inmates. Bennix had higher blood pressure and his father was diabetic. The medical examiner had inquired if they had the necessary tablets. After finding out that they did, the examiner prescribed antibiotics, considering the severe trauma. Jayaraj was advised to visit the General Hospital nearby to administer a dressing on his wound, given that he was a diabetic. The medical examiner had noticed the formation of pus during the process of dressing the wounds of both victims.
It was around 7:30 pm on Monday that the medical examiner received a call about Bennix. "He is sweating a lot and complains of palpitations…," a jail authority had informed him. Bennix was taken to the hospital in an autorickshaw, and not long after, the prison authorities received a call that he had passed away.
In fact, the prison authorities discovered Jayaraj was running a temperature when they had gone to his cell in the Kovilpatti sub-jail to give him the bad news. He was taken to the hospital a little after 10:30 pm; the prison officials had resolved to test him for the coronavirus. He was declared dead around 5: 30 am on Tuesday.
According to doctors who were present in hospital at the time of Bennix's final moments, the strapping 31-year-old had palpitations and a lower level of oxygen saturation. “He was sweating a lot, breathless, but he was able to walk…”
Jayaraj was brought in with high fever and sugar levels. He was admitted and later it was noted that his sugar levels were brought down. “Unfortunately, suddenly, in the early morning, he also died,” said a doctor present in the hospital when the victims were brought in, who added that both had clearly visible evidence of severe assaults to their buttocks, but the doctor was not aware of any bleeding from the anal orifice.
Jayaraj and Bennix were picked up by the Thoothukudi police on Saturday, primarily on the charge that they had kept their mobile handset shop open beyond the curfew of the lockdown. Eyewitness accounts and those close to the victims testify to serious assault in the Sattankulam police station. Later, they were produced before the judicial magistrate, and upon his orders, remanded to judicial custody.
The death of Jayaraj and Bennix have created an uproar nationwide, with famous personalities from cricketers to the who's who in the film fraternity expressing shock and outrage over their deaths. Questions are being raised about the role of the doctor and the judicial magistrate in the procedure ensuing the assault. The post-mortem reports of both the victims will be filed in a sealed envelope before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, possibly early next week. As of now, the post-mortem remains the most sought-after document in the Jayaraj-Bennix case.