Jai Bhim: The Saga of Police Brutality, Caste Oppression, and Legal Battle in Tamil Nadu Revealed through Rajakannu's Story

The month of April is recognized as Dalit History Month, providing an opportunity for long-oppressed members of the Dalit community to celebrate significant figures and events in their history.
Jai Bhim: The Saga of Police Brutality, Caste Oppression, and Legal Battle in Tamil Nadu Revealed through Rajakannu's Story

Caste discrimination has been a recurring theme in Indian cinema as it often draws inspiration from real-life experiences. Many films have highlighted caste-based discrimination and portrayed the lives of people from marginalized communities. One such film is 'Jai Bhim,' which depicts actual events that occurred in 1993 in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu.

Named after the Ambedkarite slogan, 'Jai Bhim' is written and directed by TJ Gnanavel. It is produced by actor Suriya, who also stars in the film as a lawyer fighting for justice for people from the Irular tribal community.

'Jai Bhim' deals with police brutality and custodial deaths that the Adivasi community has faced. The film is based on a real-life case fought by retired Madras High Court Justice K Chandru when he worked as an advocate in the 90s. Although the film received criticism from certain communities, it was widely appreciated for its bold portrayal of caste violence.

The reality behind the movie: The Jai Bhim Case

Rajakannu, a member of the Irular tribe, was falsely accused of theft. When the victim's wife Sengani (whose real name is Parvathy) sought the lawyer's assistance regarding the shocking death of Rajakannu, which occurred due to torture in prison, it became a challenging and historic legal battle for K Chandru.

Rajakannu's wife R. Parvathy had filed a Habeas Corpus plea. They had four children and worked as agricultural laborers for a daily wage. On March 20, 1993, Parvathy, her two sons, and her brother-in-law were allegedly beaten by the police in the police station.

On March 21, 1993, Rajakannu was arrested, while the others were set free. The petitioner's wife witnessed her husband being severely beaten on March 22, 1993, while he was chained to the window bars. She was also assaulted when she questioned them. They had to be treated by a homeopathic doctor due to the injuries they had sustained and the subsequent decline in their health.

After the doctor left, they were assaulted again. The petitioner was eventually forced out of the police station. The police had already reached the village before she even arrived and reported that her husband had escaped from custody and was missing.

Rajakannu's wife then inquired several times about her husband and wrote telegrams to the chief minister and the chief justice of Madras. The accused's wife claimed that the police had killed her husband, disposed of his body secretly, reported him as missing, and made false statements. On this basis, the Court granted the petition on April 21, 1993.

The police provided the following account of the events: On March 20, 1993, a person named Kadirvel Padayachi from a different town reported a robbery, stating that 43 sovereigns of gold worth Rs. 1,30,000 had been stolen the previous day. It was discovered that some residents of the petitioner's village had visited the complainant's village.

Based on this, the police went to the petitioner's village to carry out further investigations, focusing on the petitioner's husband. They located and interrogated him on March 21, 1993, after which he was taken to several locations, including Didirkuppam and Neyveli.

On March 22, 1993, they encountered the petitioner, and based on the information she provided, they took her husband to the police station. He was told to stay and sleep in the thatched hut across from the police station. However, he had disappeared that very evening. Even on April 1, 1993, he had not been found despite a thorough search.

Chandru's Activism and Pro Bono Legal Work

K. Chandru, an advocate at the time, took Parvathy's case and filed a habeas corpus petition. Chandru used to take pro bono cases of marginalized communities. Chandru acknowledged that the investigating police had attempted to bribe both him and the victim's wife on several occasions for an out-of-court settlement.

After a 13-year legal battle, the court concluded that Rajakannu had been killed while in police custody, and the accused officers were sentenced to 14 years in prison for the crime.

Chandru's background as a former activist influenced his approach to practicing law, where he believed in using the law as an instrument to protect people's rights. He was a Left Movement leader who had a desire to help others and give back to the community, especially during the state of emergency in the 1970s.

Chandru's commitment to his work as a judge was evident in his record of presiding over 96,000 cases during his lengthy tenure. He achieved this record by engaging in meticulous preparation, organization, and classification of cases. His dedication to delivering fair and just verdicts made him a respected and renowned judge in the Madras High Court.

Custodial deaths exist even today

According to the most recent report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which was made public on Monday, August 29, 2022, 88 people died in police custody in India in 2021, with Gujarat recording the highest number of such deaths.

In 2020, India reported 76 deaths in police custody, and in 2021, a 13.63 percent increase was observed. As per NCRB, 23 individuals died while in police custody in Gujarat in 2021, which was a 53% increase from 15 deaths in 2020. Additionally, the state in the west had recorded the most custodial deaths in the previous year.

Jai Bhim: The Saga of Police Brutality, Caste Oppression, and Legal Battle in Tamil Nadu Revealed through Rajakannu's Story
Courts are for litigants, not for lawyers: Justice Chandru’s interview on ‘Jai Bhim’ movie

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless