Updated: May 19, 2022 10:46:58 am
“The Supreme Court has finally ordered my son’s release. So I am standing here to thank everyone. All of you know our fight for the past 31 years. I don’t have to tell you about him. You all respected my fight.”
Surrounded by cameras, the exhausted 75-year-old hung on to her son’s arms at Jolarpettai in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupattur. Arputham Ammal’s long and gruelling fight for her son A G Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, was finally over.
Perarivalan told The Indian Express: “The only grip I had, to cling on, during the years of long struggle for my life and justice was my mother.” He also thanked “each and every individual who fought a desperate battle against the mighty system, standing shoulder to shoulder with me”.
“I cannot find a word in any language to express the gratitude I wish to convey. Standing for a very ordinary person with no background needs an immense sense of righteousness. Spending time and energy for a person whom they didn’t even meet, speaks volumes about their love and care,” he said.
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“I wish to reach out to every single person who joined the various stages of struggle and hold their hands to convey my gratitude and thankfulness. I can never compensate for that, ever. Nevertheless, ‘Thanks’ is the only single word I can express for now with profuse tears of happiness, love and reverence,” he said.
On January 28, 1998, after a prolonged trial, the TADA court sentenced 26 accused in the case to death, including Perarivalan. On May 11, 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of four, including Perarivalan.
In August 2011, the Madras High Court stayed the execution order. It was around the same time that Ammal started building a nationwide movement against the death penalty, visiting prisons across the country with a badge pinned on her sari with the message: “Marana Thandanai Ozhipom” (abolish capital punishment).
Hailing from a family bound to the ideals of Periyar and the Dravidian movement, Ammal met her son in jail whenever she could. “But during our meetings, he used to give me courage, not the other way,” said Ammal.
While her 86-year-old husband, Kuyil Dasan aka Gnanasekaran, a Tamil poet and retired reacher, stayed with one of her two daughters, Ammal shuttled between Chennai and Jolarpettai, between Vellore and Puzhal central prisons where he was lodged.
“He was always my favourite. We used to sing together,” she said, recalling the days before his arrest in the case.
When Perarivalan was first granted parole in 2017, Ammal’s “young friends”, including several filmmakers, brought a keyboard for the mother and son to sing together. The first song Perarivalan sang was “Ponnu Pola Aatha”, about a “mother as pure as gold” getting “only sorrow in return”.
According to Ammal, two of the most traumatic days in her life over the past three decades were when the President rejected her son’s mercy plea in 2011, and the hanging of Afzal Guru, who was convicted for the Parliament attack.
While the mercy plea rejection made her visit Perarivalan in Vellore prison for what she thought was “one last time”, news of a letter sent by speed post informing Guru’s wife about his hanging terrified her. “I dread the morning news flashes or seeing the postman on the street,” she had said in 2013.
For Ammal, carrying a bundle of books to prison was a highlight of her visits to see her son.
“International history, poems and novels, he used to read everything. We never gave him any luxury in life. Following Periyar’s ideology, we lived a simple life. Throughout his school days, he was the best student and passed his higher secondary examination with distinction. Everyone liked him. Even the retired jail officers had great regard for him. I hope I can live with him before I die,” she had told The Indian Express earlier.
On Wednesday, Ammal said her life had started looking up after “he got parole from the government and the Supreme Court granted him bail (in March)”. “I was finally able to take care of his health,” she said.
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