Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict still talks of his Eelam dream, and claims he was falsely implicated

“My son will return home soon… he is innocent. He has been in prison for more than 20 years, and how can they hang him now?” Arputhammal (65), mother of Perarivalan, finds words to console herself, as he faces capital punishment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

For two decades, this frail woman has been waging a lone battle. On coming to know that the police were looking for Perarivalan alias Arivu, days after the assassination of the former Prime Minister on May 21, 1991, she handed over her 19-year-old son to the Special Investigation Team. From then on, Arputhammal says, she has been waiting in the hope that he would return home.

While Arivu's father Kuyildasan, a schoolteacher, had to go to work and take care of his two daughters, Arputhammal ran from pillar to post, meeting advocates and activists, to prove that her son has done no wrong.

Excruciating pain

“For years, I've been suffering the excruciating pain of my only son facing the gallows. On days I went to see my son in the special camp in Chennai, I used to wake up at 3 a.m., cook food and take the early morning train from Jolarpet. By skipping breakfast, I would save Rs. 10 or so to buy fruits or biscuits for Arivu,” she says.

Recalling how she once missed a train, Arputhammal says she slipped and fell on the platform while rushing to get on board. “The books and fruits kept in a bag for my son and other inmates rolled on the platform. I cried aloud and wept uncontrollably. People in the station put together my things, but my agony was not for those but for the missed train…”

On what transpired between her and Arivu at the regular prison meetings, Arputhammal says she would explain to him in detail everything that happened in the family, street and town. “I would tell him how the sapling he planted in the backyard had grown into a tree. Every time I went, he would ask for my train or bus ticket and show interest in knowing about the journey.”

Arivu had a diploma in electronics and communication engineering when he was arrested. In prison, undeterred by the noose that was slowly tightening, he continued his education and completed several certificate courses and a degree in computer applications.

“He has now fulfilled the formalities for obtaining the Master of Computer Applications (MCA). Arivu also helped hundreds of inmates become computer literate in the Vellore Central Prison. Amid poverty and my husband's ailments, I'm fighting a relentless battle… I'll continue till my last breath. I hope my son will soon join millions of people across the world in their struggle to abolish capital punishment,” she says.

Previous judgment

Among other cases, the family pins its hopes on a judgment delivered by the Madras High Court in the Gurusami case. Gurusami, a descendant of anti-colonialist fighter Veerapandia Kattabomman, was sentenced to death by a Tirunelveli court in 1977 in a double murder case. After the sentence was upheld by higher courts, he filed a mercy petition, which was rejected by the President.

At that juncture, 38 MPs, at the instance of Rajya Sabha member V. Gopalasamy (now Vaiko), presented a memorandum to the President, praying for commutation of the death sentence. Days before the execution, the Government of India stayed the execution. However, the MPs' request was subsequently rejected.

Gurusami moved the Madras High Court again. On September 27, 1984, a Division Bench pronounced a landmark judgment, commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

Meeting Arivu

At the Vellore prison, Arivu wears a white T-shirt and trousers and also a broad smile most of the time.

When this correspondent met him the day before Deepavali, he was cheerful, showing no sign of anxiety. He neither enquired about the possibility of the commutation of his sentence nor his release thereafter.

Arivu spoke at length about his plans to modernise the prison administration with information technology. He recently developed a piece of software for prisoner interviews and management; it is under the consideration of the jail authorities.

“Inspired by the classes I conducted for inmates on computer applications, a former jail superintendent recommended my name for appointment on the faculty of the Indira Gandhi National Open University. However, that didn't materialise... maybe because I am accused of conspiracy in a sensational case,” he said.

Asked about the dreams he had over the years, Arivu said that though his life was in limbo after the arrest, the lives of his family, friends and others he knew had changed. “I don't remember the face of many of the people I knew. I remember the street and the town I lived as it was in 1991. So, the dreams were either irrelevant or prison-centric. But the only dream we always cherish and hope to achieve is Tamil Eelam.”

The charges against Arivu are that he bought two nine-volt battery cells and gave them to Sivarasan, considered the mastermind of the operation, to make the bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi. Arivu says that though it was pronounced that the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act would not apply to this case, the award of death penalty was based on the confessional statements recorded under the Act. The draconian TADA deprived a prisoner of all rights, including his right to appeal to the High Court.

“There is no evidence I knew about the conspiracy [to kill Rajiv Gandhi] or that Sivarasan, Subha or Dhanu told me about it. There is enough material in the investigation report which proves that I had no knowledge of the conspiracy. Though the SIT accused me of making the bomb, the former CBI official, K. Ragothaman, who investigated the case, has gone on record saying that the investigation did not reveal who made the bomb.”

Arivu says just because of his educational background (diploma in electronics and communication engineering), he was accused of having made the bomb. “My conscience is clear... I have suffered enough for no fault of mine. The investigators know that I was falsely implicated in this case.”

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