Perarivalan’s kin cling to the belief that ex-CBI officer V Thiagarajan’s fresh testimony will help secure his release soon.

25 years on a TN mother hopes her son will finally come home for PongalAnanda Vikatan
news Rajiv Gandhi assassination Monday, December 11, 2017 - 17:56

I first met Arputham Ammal in a busy hospital in Chennai about a decade ago. Her face didn’t stand out from the hundreds of others I passed in the corridors that day. Like several others one sees in a hospital, her face was set in a mask of worry.

However, her struggle is vastly different from that of other patients there. For 25 years now, she has been endeavouring to secure the release of her 45-year-old son Perarivalan. And in the last quarter of a century, despite facing mountainous hurdles, she has never given up. In doing so, she has transformed into a champion fighting against capital punishment.

In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted Perarivalan’s and three other convicts’ death sentence was commuted to a life sentence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. 

It all started for her on June 10, 1991, when Perarivalan, aka Arivu, was all of 19 years of age. The police promised her that Arivu would come back home after a routine enquiry about former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination on May 21 that year. He finally came home on August 24 2017 – after 25 long years – on a two-month parole.

These two months are a bittersweet memory for his family, which now hopes that Arivu will possibly be out of jail before Pongal. “I could not spend much time with him because Arivu’s father was at a hospital in Chennai. Isn’t it ironic that Arivu was granted parole to see his father, but he couldn’t travel to Chennai to meet him? But hopefully this phase, of him being in prison, will end soon” Arputham Ammal says.

From meeting over 400 people to playing the guitar gifted by Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan, Arivu apparently lived every moment outside jail to the fullest. “He has always been a cheerful person; you will never have a dull moment when he is around,” Ammal says.

On days she feels less hopeful, she turns to the one-minute-long audio recording of Arivu playing the guitar. “He has a fine sense of music, and always played the guitar very well. It was an overwhelming moment when Thirumavalavan gifted him one. We were astounded he could still play it so well after two long decades.”

Courtesy: Ananda Vikatan

Arivu has spent over two decades in jail for he had procured the 9-volt batteries that were used in the bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi. In November, former investigating officer for the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) V Thiagarajan told the Supreme Court that Perarivalan was not aware of the conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi. The affidavit filed by Thiagarajan says: "It is humbly stated that accused Perarivalan's statement that he was totally in the dark as to the purpose for which the batteries were purchased was not recorded by me, because it would be an exculpatory statement and, hence, the whole purpose of recording the confessional statement would be lost. Further, I did not deem it fit to record this exculpatory statement because the investigation regarding the bomb was pending at the time of recording the confessional statement." In 2013, the former officer told some journalists that he regretted his decision.  

The affidavit has been filed since he was concerned about Perarivalan languishing in jail with “declining prospects of release”.

The affidavit gave Arputham Ammal’s dying hopes a fresh lease of life. It was further fuelled by Justice (retd.) KT Thomas’s letter to Sonia Gandhi asking her to “show magnanimity to the convicts” in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Thomas, who headed the three-member bench that confirmed the convicts’ punishment, also said the CBI’s investigations had “serious flaws”.

“It has now been proved beyond doubt that Arivu was not aware of this conspiracy. He has been in jail for two decades for handing over two batteries. How much more cruel can this get?” Arputham Ammal cries out. But the next moment, her voice is filled with hope. “Pongal is the only festival we celebrate as a family, because we are rationalists. Ever since his conviction, we have gone to the Vellore jail every Pongal to celebrate with Arivu. We hope that this Pongal he will be back with us.”

The joy and hope that Arivu left in his two-month stay still lingers in their small home in Jolarpet. As his family waits for the Supreme Court verdict on Arivu’s plea with bated breath, they cling to their memories of his visit.

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