By Vatican News
Several Christian organizations in India are raising their concern and demanding action be taken in the wake of the deaths of a father and son who were brutalized while in police custody in the country’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.
P. Jeyaraj and his son Fenix were arrested on 19 June for allegedly keeping their stores open past permitted hours in the state that is still observing a lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Both men were kept in police custody overnight and died within hours of each other two days later. Relatives claim they were subjected to brutal torture.
Christian groups asking for clarity and justice
Amongst those seeking to shine a light on the killings is the All India Catholic Union (AICU) that is demanding a probe by a High Court Judge, the Indian Christian Women’s Movement that calls for a team of human rights activists and lawyers to conduct the investigation, the Evangelical Fellowship of India that appeals to “competent authorities” to ensure justice in the case.
Abraham Mathai, a prominent voice for the rights of Christians and other minorities, says the custodial deaths are part of ongoing persecution of Christians in the area.
He claims that the police officers accused of the murders “are believed to have also been involved in religious persecution and human rights violations earlier this year.”
His accusations are backed by AICU, which is the largest body of Catholic laypeople in the nation. It alleges that the accused police officers “have been complicit in other custodial deaths in recent months, apart from fomenting caste clashes.”
Observing that the two victims “had been beaten, brutally tortured, sodomized with rods,” an AICU statement on June 29 points out that the “police brutalization” has shocked the nation “which is still to come to terms with police atrocities in other states which have gone unchecked under the cover of the Covid curfew.”
Demands for respect of Constitutional Rights
The chorus of voices is demanding that the deaths not be dismissed as “mere negligent acts” and highlights the fact that the guilty policemen have not been arrested and charged with murder.
It also requests an inquiry into the conduct of the local magistrate and government doctors who handled the case.
The killings have also triggered demands that the government act on police brutality by educating police officers to respect the “human rights guaranteed to all people under the Constitution of India” and to help them appreciate “the diversity of communities that exist in the country.”
Catholic Sr Cynthia Mathew, who is engaged in advocacy for women, Dalits and Adivasis at the UN, points out that over 1,700 people died in police custody in India in 2019.