As we look out to a new year ahead, a conversation from ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ (very minor spoiler ahead), between Saw Gerrera and Jyn Erso comes to mind:
Saw: “You can stand to see the Imperial flag reign across the galaxy?”
Jyn: “It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.”
I feel in recent years, I have personally been looking down more than up.
On that note, I thought I would write my first article for the year on a death in custody case from 2012.
The victim’s name was Chandran Perumal. On Monday, Jan 9, 2017, the court will deliver a verdict on a civil suit brought by the victim’s family against the government.
Allow me to begin with a brief recap of what happened, based largely on what was shared with me by the lawyer handling Chandran’s case, M Visvanathan.
Chandran was a 47-year-old lorry driver working in Bukit Jalil. His family lived in Johor, and he travelled twice a week to see them.
Chandran was arrested on a kidnapping charge on Sept 6, 2012.
By way of brief context, the story behind this arrest, as related to me by the lawyer, goes as follows:
Chandran had a brother-in-law named Rahiman Abdul Rashid, who was married (to Chandran’s wife’s sister, Siti Rohani Abdullah) but had no children.
Chandran came to know of an Indonesian lady, who had a child by a Bangladeshi man, neither of whom were documented. He told his wife about this couple and their child.
Chandran’s wife then relayed this information to Rahiman, who met with the Indonesian lady at the hospital, and reached an agreement to adopt the baby.
After all the arrangements had been made, the Indonesian lady had a change of heart, and made a police report that her baby had been kidnapped, and that Chandran had been an accomplice.
Chandran was arrested on Sept 6, 2012. Five days later, he was found dead in the police lock-up.
Chandran suffered from high blood pressure and was on daily medication. The police refused to allow Chandran’s family members to provide the medication to him that he needed.
In the inquest into Chandran’s death, a cellmate testified that the day before he died, Chandran was raving, jabbering and screaming. CCTV footage from around this time showed Chandran cold and in pain.
On Sept 9, a magistrate ordered that Chandran be taken for medical treatment, but these instructions were ignored by the police.
By Sept 10, Chandran had died of hypertensive heart disease.
Cops found culpable
One small piece of good news in this sad affair is that the inquest into Chandran’s death did indeed find the police to be responsible, in a verdict delivered almost exactly two years ago now.
Soon, we will see if justice will be delivered in the civil court as well.
Getting here has been a long and hard journey.
Rahiman, who was detained at the same time as Chandran and denied the dialysis treatments he required thrice weekly while he was detained, passed away some two months ago, one month after testifying in court for the civil case.
A housemate of Chandran, Ravi, who testified in the court proceedings, and who always showed up for every court hearing, also passed away last year. I remember him and another housemate who also always came as two friendly, kind men - familiar faces on a long road.
There seems to be less news nowadays concerning deaths in custody.
One can only hope that this is not due to better cover-ups, but is instead the result of activism, and the efforts of people like Visvanathan, who carries the torch in the long, drawn-out night that the unsung fight for justice often is.
Here’s hoping his example, and the example of so many others, will keep encouraging us to look up always, whatever the cost.
NATHANIEL TAN wishes everyone a blessed 2017.- Mkini