'Real victory only when India abolishes death penalty'

Hours after the Supreme Court commuted their death sentences to life terms on Tuesday, the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case expressed happiness and claimed justice had been done.

A three-judge Bench had earlier held that the inordinate delay in the disposal of their mercy petitions by the President entitled them to the relief. In the Central Prison, Vellore, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan — the three convicts on death row — were waiting anxiously until Doordarshan broke the news in the prison around 10.45 a.m. While Murugan and Santhan were in a temple on the prison premises, Perarivalan was with his friends when the jailor communicated the much-awaited news. “We want to thank the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa played a crucial role in saving our lives. The real victory will be when death penalty is abolished in India,” an elated Perarivalan told this correspondent.

In an exclusive interaction with The Hindu, the trio said they were hopeful that the State government would set them free. “I and my wife [Nalini, who is serving a life sentence] are eager to meet our daughter in London,” Murugan said. Santhan, who had refused to meet visitors in the last two years, said: “I don’t know where to go if I am released as I don’t have a family. But god will show me a way.”

Perarivalan said the turning point in the case was the statement of former CBI official V. Thiagarajan who admitted that he had not recorded verbatim the statement of Perarivalan during the investigation. “I want to leave this prison with a clean chit. I want the society to know that I am innocent, only then can I confidently mingle with the people and contribute to the nation and my family.”