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Justice, after 20 long years

Thankappan kept his son’s body in chemical liquid in a specially-built tank for more than 11 years as a mark of protest against the flawed investigation into his death.

india Updated: Jun 12, 2008 02:25 IST
Ramesh Babu

A father had to fight a legal battle for years. However, when the long arm of law finally caught the perpetrators, he was not there to witness it.

Thankappan kept his son’s body in chemical liquid in a specially-built tank for more than 11 years as a mark of protest against the flawed investigation into his death. After 20 years of legal battle, the Cherthala first class magistrate on Tuesday sentenced two retired deputy superintendents of police to one year’s rigorous imprisonment for the illegal detention of his son, Gopi.

Gopi (then 24) had been summoned to the Cherthala police station (Alapuzha district) in connection with a theft case in 1988. Though his father and others pleaded that he was innocent, the police kept him in the lock-up for more than 24 hours.

Unable to suffer the humiliation, Gopi committed suicide by spearing a tubelight into his stomach. The lockup death created a furore in the state in the late ’80s and helped to expose several cases of human rights violation.

Initially, the police dismissed it as suicide. But Thankappan, a coir worker, wasn’t ready to give up. He built a cement tank next to his tiny house and filled it with Formalin and other chemicals. He vowed to keep his son’s body till he got justice and pumped in all his savings to keep the tank intact.

The state crime branch which first investigated the case concluded it was suicide. Later, the High Court handed over the case to the CBI, which also agreed with the crime branch findings.

Undaunted by initial setbacks, he again moved the High Court. Finally, the High Court ordered the state government to pay a relief of Rs three lakh and asked the police to register a fresh case of illegal detention against two police officers.

After this verdict in 1999, Thankappan demolished the tank and cremated his son. But he was not there when the final verdict came. He died in 2004.

First Class Judicial Magistrate CK Biju found retired Dy SPs Prabhakaran and N Sreekanthan Nair guilty of illegal confinement of the youth and sentenced them to a year’s rigorous imprisonment.