efe-epaNew Delhi

The alleged custodial deaths of a father and son arrested by police for breaking lockdown rules in southern India have sparked outrage with rights groups on Friday urging the government to ensure the accused cops are brought to justice.

Tamil Nadu police arrested P Jayaraj, 59, and his son J Bennix, 31, on June 19 because they had kept their shop of mobile phone accessories open despite prohibitory orders imposed by the government to stop the Covid-19 outbreak.

The incident took place at Sattankulam in Thoothukudi district of the coastal state.

“They were allegedly tortured by the police while in custody, leading to their deaths. While Bennicks fell ill and died on June 22 June, his father died on the morning of June 23,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

The state high court has taken cognizance of the case amid widespread public anger. Police have suspended two officers while two more are under the scanner amid a departmental inquiry.

Meenakshi Ganguly, head of Human Rights Watch in India, said Indian police generally enjoyed “a culture of impunity” in cases of custodial deaths.

"Even as we see global outrage over police abuses, in India there remains a culture of impunity. Security forces are rarely held to account for human rights violations including torture, excessive use of force, and death in custody,” Ganguly told EFE.

“Instead of improvements, there even seems to be a rise in bias and abuse among the police.”

Amnesty's Kumar echoed the observation saying, there was “a lack of accountability when it comes to holding police officers accountable for custodial deaths” in India.

“The poor conviction rates help in giving a sense of impunity to police officers and this must end now. As many as 100 people were reported to have died in police custody in 2017,” he said, citing the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.

According to the data, in 62 cases of custodial deaths, 33 police persons were arrested, charges filed against 27, four were acquitted or discharged, and there were zero convictions.

“The zero conviction is a big problem and the Tamil Nadu government must show firm resolve by punishing the police officers involved and ensuring that Jayaraj and Bennick's families get justice,” Kumar said.

“Torture is not recognized as a distinct crime under Indian law. However, courts have ruled that torture violates constitutionally guaranteed rights to life and personal liberty and that the state must prevent it.”

India has signed the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment in 1997, but has not yet passed domestic legislation that will enable it to ratify the convention. EFE-EPA

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