A year later, no solace for family of Jeyaraj & Bennix

A year later, memories linger on: Revisiting the family of custodial death victims Jeyaraj & Bennix

The father-son duo was beaten up mercilessly by scores of policemen and they succumbed to the injuries suffered a few days later

Emmanuel Bennix and his father P Jeyaraj. Credit: PTI File Photo

Selvarani had lived most of her life in Sathankulam in Thoothukudi district. But the small town has now become a haunting place as it brings back the memories of her son Emmanuel Bennix and husband P Jeyaraj.

On this day last year, Bennix and Jeyaraj had left their tiny abode in Sathankulam to man the mobile shop that they owned after lunch and were to return home for dinner.

They never came back -- the night of June 19, 2020, changed Selvarani's life forever. The two persons that she loved most in the world returned home as lifeless bodies three days later having succumbed to mindless violence inflicted on them in police custody.

Selvarani, who left Sathankulam in August 2020 two months after she lost her husband and son, is now living with her daughter Persis in Puliangudi in the neighbouring Tenkasi district.

The mother and her love for the son

“My mother has not been able to recover from the loss. I am sure she will never be. She cannot digest the fact that my brother Bennix is no more. He was just 30, full of life, and was looking forward to getting married and beginning a new phase in his life. But everything crashed in just a few days. My mother’s lap still longs for her son and his love,” Persis told DH over the phone.

Bennix, 31, and 60-year-old Jeyaraj were taken to the Sathankulam police station on June 19 over an argument that the father had with a policeman. What followed was a nightmare for the family, especially Selvarani. The father-son duo was beaten up mercilessly by scores of policemen who took turns and they succumbed to the grievous injuries suffered a few days later.

The police brutality sent shockwaves across the country with the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court taking suo moto cognizance of the case and is monitoring the probe. Ten policemen were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that took over the probe and nine are still in jail while one person died due to Covid-19.

Sister who stepped-in to take care of the mother

Persis, 34, was living with her family in Vijayawada before her father and brother succumbed to injuries inflicted on them by the men in khaki at the Sathankulam police station. She has now relocated to Puliangudi after the Tamil Nadu government gave her a job, with her kids.

As the first death anniversary of the father-son duo nears – Bennix took his last breath on June 22 while Jeyaraj died the next day – the biggest worry on the minds of the family members is about Selvarani.

It is only after days of convincing by her three daughters and their husbands, Selvarani agreed to accompany them to spend a few days at her home in Sathankulam and participate in ceremonies to mark the first anniversary.

“She does not want to go back to Sathankulam. Though I have been visiting our house once in a month or so, she never accompanied me. That is the place where she lived with my father and brother. She does not want to revisit those memories. But she agreed to come because it is the first anniversary,” Persis said, fighting back her tears.

The family will hold prayer meetings on June 22 and 23 in memory of Jeyaraj and Bennix in Sathankulam.

The ‘mama’ children will never forget

Not just Selvarani, Persis said, she has a tough job convincing her children that their mama (uncle) will never come back. She said Bennix was the most pampered child as he was the only brother of the three sisters.

“Even the other day when we were talking casually, one of my daughters said mama will get her chocolates when they go to Sathankulam. The kids keep looking at photos on our mobile phones whenever they remember my brother. None of us can forget anything. It is quite tough telling the kids their mama would never come back,” she added.

Bennix was a dotting brother for his sisters and made it a habit to talk to their children every day.

Persis still repents not picking Bennix’s phone on a fateful night last year – she did not pick the phone as she thought it was a regular call from her brother, not knowing that their father had been picked up by police.

“I still regret not attending the phone call. If I had attended, I could have spoken to him one last time. Maybe I would have told him to be cool, and not get tense about our father’s arrest. If only I had attended the call,” she said.

The family is pinning its hopes on the judiciary to get justice for Bennix and Jeyaraj and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday refusing to stay the trial on a petition filed by one of the accused has raised their expectations.

Family pinning hopes on judiciary for justice

Persis’ husband Augustine told DH that they had expected the trial to move at a faster pace, but things have slowed down due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

“We are not complaining but if the trial moves faster, we will be happy. The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed the process. But what keeps us going is the Supreme Court’s stand on the case and the High Court’s monitoring. That the policemen have not been able to come out on bail as yet has instilled hope in us,” Augustine said, referring to the SC refusing bail for the accused.  

Pon Sekar, another brother-in-law of Bennix, also echoed the same sentiments, saying they were hopeful that the accused policemen will be punished sooner than later.

“My father-in-law and brother-in-law were killed for no reason. They had never raised their voice against anyone, but they were subjected to brutal violence inside a police station. Only when such persons are punished, will people develop trust with the men in khaki. All we want is justice,” Pon Sekar concluded.

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