On Friday, among the thousands who had lined up in Kochi to pay their last respects to legendary jurist Justice V R Krishna Iyer was a 67-year-old woman from Vellore in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. She had a badge pinned on her saree with this slogan — ‘Say No To Death Penalty’.
Very few would know G Arputhammal without this description —mother of A G Perarivalan, alias Arivu, the 43-year-old who is serving a life term at the Vellore Central Prison in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
“Even before his father, Justice Iyer was the first person Arivu wanted to meet if he ever came out of prison,” Arputhammal told The Sunday Express.
“Once in 10 days, he is allowed to use the telephone for 10 minutes from prison. He called Justice Iyer on November 12 and they spoke for about four minutes. He wished my son the best of luck and asked him to continue his reading, studies and legal fight. He also told Arivu that he would definitely be released. Arivu must be shattered on hearing the news of the death.”
That was the last time Perarivalan spoke to Justice Iyer, who had celebrated his 100th year just three days after that, added Arputhammal, who is now a leading activist against capital punishment and who heads People’s Movement Against Death Penalty (PMADP), an initiative founded by the jurist.
Recalling the beginning of her son’s association with Justice Iyer, Arputhammal said, “After reading an article written by Justice Iyer about the abolition of death penalty, Arivu asked me to meet him with the manuscript of a book that he had written in jail. The book (an autobiography) analysed his own case files and documents, and he said he had found major flaws in the trial and verdict. After reading the manuscript, Justice Iyer asked me to take up the legal fight until we get justice.”
Justice Iyer also wrote the foreword for An Appeal from the Death Row, the autobiography of Perarivalan, who was then a death convict, that was published in 2006. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Justice Iyer wrote: “Life is dear and given by God. Man has no right to take it away.”
Perarivalan was sentenced to death during the assassination trial after he allegedly confessed that he purchased two 9v battery cells and gave them to the mastermind Sivarasan, and that they were used in the bomb that killed the former PM.
According to Arputhammal, Justice Iyer had been hopeful about her son’s case after V. Thiagarajan, who was the then CBI SP who recorded the statement of the accused in the case, said in a PMADP documentary released last year that he did not record the fact that Perarivalan had told him that he did not know why he was asked to buy the battery cells. She added that her son was 19 at the time of his arrest, and was studying for a diploma in electronics.
“When Thiagarajan confessed last year that Arivu never said that he knew the battery he bought would be used to make the bomb that killed the former Prime Minister, Justice Iyer reminded us that truth will never die,” said Arputhammal.
On February 18, 2014, the Supreme Court commuted Perarivalan’s death sentence to a life term, along with that of three others in the case, citing the nearly 12-year delay in deciding on their mercy pleas. Two days later, the then Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa announced the release of all the seven convicts in the case, which was then stayed by the apex court after the Centre questioned the powers of a state government to grant remission of sentences in such cases.
At that time, Justice Iyer had said, “Our justice system stands for reformation, and this doesn’t translate into incarcerating someone till death.
Only ignorance of what justice means can lead someone to oppose the release of convicts. Releasing them proves the magnanimity of modern India.”