Custodial Torture Claims the Life of Juvenile: A Mother’s Quest for Justice

Gokul Sri

As the world welcomed the New Year in 2023, Ms. Priya Palani endured an unimaginable tragedy the loss of her eldest son, Gokul Sri, under mysterious and brutal circumstances. Ms. Priya is a widow having five children lives in hut  located in a garbage ground, a daily wage labour. This is the story of a poor mother’s relentless pursuit of justice, the systemic reforms it sparked, and the crucial support from Human rights defenders that made a difference.

 Gokul Sri, a 17-year-old resident of Kannadapalayam near Tambaram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, was taken into custody by the railway police on December 28, 2022, accused of stealing a battery from the railway department. Being a minor, he was placed in a juvenile correction facility, popularly called juvenile homes, in Chengalpattu (a town next to Chennai), the next day. Just two days later, on December 31, 2022, Gokul was admitted to Chengalpattu Government Hospital, where he succumbed to severe health complications.

Authorities from the police and the juvenile home initially attributed Gokul’s death to the consumption of spoiled food. However, his mother, Priya, strongly contested this claim, insisting that her son, who was in good health when arrested, had been beaten to death. Priya’s suspicions were fuelled by the marks she observed on his body. Determined to uncover the truth, she filed a petition with the Chengalpattu District Collector, demanding a thorough investigation.

The subsequent probe, conducted by Chengalpattu Judicial Magistrate Ms. Rina, revealed shocking details. The autopsy report, dated January 3, 2023, confirmed that Gokul had been subjected to a physical assault, leading to his death in custody. This revelation resulted in the registration of a murder case against six officials from the juvenile correction facility. Superintendent Mohan, Assistant Superintendent Vidyasagar, barber Raj, wardens Vijayakumar and Charanraj, and teacher Chandrabau were arrested on January 14, 2023.

The incident prompted significant administrative action. IAS officer Ms. Valarmathi was transferred to Ranipet district following allegations of negligence. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Mr. M.K. Stalin announced compensation package  comprised of a solatium of Rs 10 lakh and a house worth Rs 18 lakhs for Gokul Sri’s family. However, Priya, while acknowledging the compensation, emphasized that no financial aid could replace her son. Her primary demand was justice, not just for her son but to prevent such tragedies from recurring.

Priya urged the state government to form a committee to reform juvenile homes, ensure regular medical check-ups for the inmates, and take strict action against those who attempted to cover up her son’s murder. She also alleged that District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) Mr. Sivakumar had coerced her into signing a blank sheet and had not taken any action regarding her complaint. The identification parade held on March 7, 2023, helped in identifying the culprits, thanks to the support and courage provided to Priya by Human rights defender Mr. Aseervatham belong to Joint Action Against Custodial Torture (JAACT).

Further actions included:

  • A notification from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Relief and Inspection Committee on February 11, 2023, based on Priya’s complaint.
  • The formation of a committee headed by a retired IAS officer and one member from Non-governmental Organization  to inspect juvenile homes across Tamil Nadu.
  • A meeting with SHRC Member Mr. Kannadasan on January 20, 2023, to expedite the investigation.
  • The acquisition of Gokul’s the postmortem certificate revealing 96 injuries on his body, confirming torture inflicted upon him as well as  the cause of death.

In March 2023, a series of consultations and demonstrations were organized by a collective body of  political parties and movements in Chengalpattu to demand swift police action. A press meet was held on March 27, 2023, to publish the post-mortem findings. Priya’s fight faced further challenges, such as Inspector Ms. Latha’s alleged attempts to negotiate a compromise and her oral abuse of Priya. Complaints were subsequently filed to higher authorities demanding action against Inspector Latha.

On August 20, 2023, a housewarming ceremony was held for the new house provided to Priya’s family. The event, coordinated by JAACT members and attended by various political and social activists, symbolized solidarity with the grieving family.

Despite these measures, Priya’s quest for justice continues. She remains steadfast in her demand for a fair probe into her son’s death and insists that all those involved in the custodial torture and cover-up be brought to justice. Her relentless pursuit aims to ensure that no other child suffers the same fate as Gokul Sri.

 Dr. P. Sekar, Researcher, in Human Rights Defender Alert India (HRDA). The author is completed P.hD from Jawaharlal Nehru university and specialized  International organization. His interest are includes Child rights, dalit rights and rights of Person with Disability.  Email- [email protected],

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