It has been 22 years, 8 months and 7 days since Arputham and Kuildasan handed over their teenage son to the special investigation team probing the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
That was a Tuesday too, and the couple has lived through over a thousand agonising Tuesdays since then — as Perarivalan was convicted, sentenced to death, and kept waiting to be hanged by the government.
“This is the first victory after all the years of struggle to save my son. I have grown old, I will be 67 soon, but I am kept going by the hope that his freedom will be secured soon. Because I know Arivu is innocent,” said Aruputham, after being told of the Supreme Court verdict commuting Perarivalan’s sentence on Tuesday.
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Arputham and her two daughters were in Chennai, anxiously awaiting the judgment. T Gnanasekaran, or Kuildasan as he is widely known, does not keep well, and was at the family home in Jolarpet in Vellore district.
The celebrations began as soon as the news came in; the premises spilt over with leaders, activists, sympathisers and the media. Arputham hugged those who had stood with her over the years, offered sweets to many, and took a few hesitant steps to oblige younger people who urged her to join them in a celebratory dance.
“I can’t smile more than this, I have got used to my tears,” she told a photojournalist who wanted a family photo.
The help and support from wellwishers notwithstanding, the long battle was essentially Arputham’s. She visited her son on every possible Thursday, and travelled across the country — to attend court hearings and public meetings against the death penalty, to meet prominent abolitionists like Justice (retd) V R Krishna Iyer, and to prisons where other death row convicts were lodged.
She visited the offices of political parties seeking support, and addressed press conferences to reiterate that her demand for her son’s freedom was justified because he was innocent. She went to book exhibitions to sell the book that Perarivalan has written, and a documentary on the death penalty with him as the focus. On Tuesday, Arputham could afford to smile and more.
“The commutation given in the earlier batch of petitions gave us hope, but there was still the lingering fear that it would be argued that this was a different kind of case, a political one,” said Arulselvi, Perarivalan’s younger sister, who is an assistant professor at Annamalai University. His elder sister, Anbumani, is a junior drafting officer in the state rural development department.
The sisters were 21 and 17 when Perarivalan was arrested on June 11, 1991. The previous month, Anbumani had been engaged, and the wedding had been fixed for a few months from then. “Those who are close to us, including my brother-in-law, knew that he was innocent. They all stood by us because they knew the truth,” Arulselvi said.
The sisters have made it a point to take their children along when they visit him at Vellore Central Jail on special occasions like Pongal, and during school vacations. On Tuesday, they were daring to dream again — about making arrangements for his wedding, perhaps in not too distant a future.