The death row convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case hailed the Supreme Court’s verdict and said it would save the lives of “many innocents” like them from the gallows.
Shanthan, Murugan and Arivu thanked Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam for commuting their death sentence to life term, said Arputhammal, quoting the trio.
“Arivu told me that this judgment will surely save many innocents like him from capital punishment. He also told that after he comes out of the prison, he will campaign against capital punishment,” she said. Perarivalan’s sisters Anbumani, Arul Selvi, brother-in-law Raja, grandmother Sagunthala and nephew Agaran met him.
Though she had been visiting her son every week since he was imprisoned, she used to return from the prison with a heavy heart and tears rolling down her cheeks. “Today, I am coming out of the prison with happiness and a smile. But I want my son and other innocents implicated in the case to be out of the prison soon,” she further said and demanded that the government should probe the case thoroughly and nab the perpetrators of the crime.Arivu’s nephew and sisters said it was a kind of happy family reunion. “We shared a lot of good happenings and developments in the case and family affairs,” said Arivu’s sisters. Agaran, aged around 20, said he has been coming to the prison since his childhood to meet his uncle.
Nalini’s mother Padmini and Murugan’s mother Somani met the couple separately. After meeting Murugan in the men’s prison between 11.15 am and 12.15 pm, they met Nalini, who was lodged in the Special Prison for Women. Responding to a query if they had informed their granddaughter Harithra, pursuing medicine in London, about the verdict, Somani said she would have learnt about it as she frequently checked the internet for the case’s status.
Convicts Burst into Celebration in Jail
At 10.30 am on Tuesday, the three death row convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in the Vellore Central Prison burst into happiness after a news channel flashed the news that they have been waiting to hear for years -- commutation of their death sentence to life imprisonment.
Prison officials said V Sriharan (alias) Murugan, Shanthan and A G Perarivalan (alias) Arivu were glued to a television set near their cell from 10 a.m.
As news of the three-member bench of the Supreme Court commuting their death sentence came in, they went around the prison sharing their happiness with fellow inmates and prison personnel. Ever since the SC’s three-member bench commuted the death sentence of 15 death row convicts into life imprisonment, citing inexplicable and inordinate delay of their mercy pleas, the trio was expecting similar judgement in their case too.
“Filled with hope, the three sat in front of the television, unlike any other day, before 10 am. The minute they saw the news (commutation of their death sentence to life), they were filled with boundless joy,” said a prison official.
Additional Superintendent of Prison Krishna Kumar went to convey the information about the court verdict and called them around 10.45 am. But they told him that they had already watched the news on the TV, said a prison official.
Shanthan and Perarivalan were confident and determined that their lives would not end behind bars, the official said. “On the other hand, Murugan remains calm and often offers prayers in a temple inside the prison,” he added.
Meanwhile, about 50 cadres of Naam Thamilar Katchi that campaigned against the death penalty gathered in front of the prison and burst crackers.
Form Advisory Board for Trio's Release: Chandru
Former Madras High Court judge K Chandru on Tuesday suggested that the State government immediately form an advisory board on remission of the sentences of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convict trio without waiting for petitions from them.
Speaking to Express, the retired judge, dealt at length about the options available to the State in the wake of the Supreme Court commuting the death sentences of Murugan, Santhan and Arivu alias A G Perarivalan to life imprisonment.
“The government should use the provisions of section 433A of the CrPC, which allows the State to review death sentence after the convict has served a minimum of 14 years. In this case, all the three have already served the minimum sentence. Not only this, they have done their time with good conduct, if we go by their records. It could also be said that they have been reformed. Since the criterion for remission is reformation, it could be established that they fulfil this criteria.”
Constituting an advisory board would in no way affect the decision of the State Cabinet on release, he said, adding that such a board could provide material that would stand in good stead, in case the release was challenged.
“We should also consider that all the accused convicted in the case were only accessories, before the fact or after the fact. The real killers and the principal conspirators were either killed in the blast or committed suicide thereafter. Therefore, the sentencing should have been proportional. In this scenario, what the TADA trial the convicts underwent was unfair and did not satisfy the international human rights standards,” Chandru said.
“Beginning from the trial, there were lot of loopholes in rendering justice. They were convicted based on the confessions, which was admitted to have been fudged by the Investigating SP who recorded their statements.
Later, the then Governor of Tamil Nadu rejected the clemency petitions in 1999 without taking the advice of the Cabinet,” the former judge noted.
Perarivalan Family, Activists Ecstatic
It was ecstasy and tears of joy for the family of Perarivalan as the television ticker scrolled the headline that Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of three death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Across the state, Tamil outfits celebrated the occasion.
Activists belonging to the People’s Movement Against Death Penalty lifted Arputhammal, the mother of Perarivalan alias Arivu, who has been waging a valiant battle to prove her son’s innocence and secure his release, on their shoulders as the police, who were patrolling the busy Koyambedu Road opposite a dilapidated structure, looked on. Crackers were burst and a box of laddus and another of pedas were distributed to a few journalists who had gathered anticipating the judgement.
As the steady stream of visitors started calling on at the venue, which was earlier the protest venue to oppose death penalty to Perarivalan and the other two - Santhan and Murugan - facing the noose, journalists were jostling for space to get a sound byte from a mother who has waged a 23-year-long sustained struggle without losing hope.
The phones of the Perarivalan’s family members were continuously ringing. The venue also bore a festive look as the drummers too joined in celebrating the verdict. In the midst of a press conference, Arputhammal had to excuse herself twice. “This is an important call from Selvaraj. He is the man who also worked for my son’s release. I will get back soon,” she said as the TV journalists waited without any complaint.
Perarivalan’s younger sister Arul Selvi, his elder sister Anbumani and her son Agaran were all in demand as the media sought their reactions.
As Arputhammal was preparing to meet her son in Vellore jail, activists urged her and her family members to shake a leg to the tunes of the drumbeats. They obliged as photographers and TV cameramen tried to capture the moment in their lenses.
“The fight is not over. I want my son to be released. He is innocent,” she said while thanking the media.