For the first time after Rajiv Gandhi assassination on May 21, 1991, hundreds of people joined a massive rally from Rajarathinam Stadium in Egmore to the Fort St George, the state secretariat, on Saturday to remember the 25th ‘arrest’ anniversary of A G Perarivalan, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case who has been behind bars since the day of his arrest on June 11, 1991, without bail or parole.
As the rally started peacefully from the dusty stadium corner, people from various sections – human rights activists, sympathisers, writers, film stars, directors and even some leading politicians — marched on foot along with hundreds of motorcycles, led by Arputhammal (80), a relentless anti-death penalty activist and mother of Perarivalan.
What is the significance of remembering the ‘arrest’ day of Perarivalan? It could be that the issue is likely to be raised again by Jayalalithaa in her meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 14 in Delhi.
The case was settled in 1999 by the Supreme Court. However, the case remains technically open, and is being probed by a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) under RAW on several missing links and loopholes missing from the CBI’s SIT probe. Even after 25 years, revelations of investigators and those who had a ringside view of the assassination make Perarivalan and his mother believe that hundreds of pleas claiming innocence are still valid as the CBI’s SIT probe never found the conspirators.
“It was on June 11, 1991, I handed him over to the CBI officers at Periyar Thidal (office of the Dravidar Kazhagam party). A day before, officers visited our home in Jolarpet. We told them that he was working at the Computer Section in the office and we took them there to help enquiries,” said Arputhammal recalling that day.
As an accused, Perarivalan’s book An Appeal from the death row claimed he was implicated in the conspiracy by a confession made under duress that he had bought a battery to make the bomb.
Underr TADA provisions, unlike in usual criminal procedures before a magistrate, an SP rank official recorded his statement in the prison. And his confession statement was considered as crucial evidence.
Abusive interrogations, many of them amounting to the cruelest forms of torture, were justified under TADA Act, a terror act created in 1985 and sustained till 1995.
Perarivalan’s book argues that conspiracy charges on many others including the first accused Nalini and 16th accused Ravichandran were dismissed by SC based on a decoded radio message of LTTE proving that the conspiracy was known to only three people (Sivarasan, Thanu and Shubha). While this had helped others escape from conspiracy charges, Perarivalan regrets that he has been discriminated against in the case. Moreover, Perarivalan’s was the only TADA confession statement that the SC had upheld in the case, finding it “believable.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, former CBI SP V Thiagarajan, who recorded the statement of Perarivalan under TADA provisions said that Perarivalan had never said that he knew the battery he bought would be used to make the bomb. “During the interrogation, he admitted that he purchased the battery. But he said he did not know the battery he bought would be used to make the bomb. Such a statement wouldn’t have qualified as a confession statement (without his admission of being part of the conspiracy). There I omitted a part of his statement and added my interpretation,” Thiagarajan said.
“I never imagined that this statement alone would play a major role in his case. I know it is embarrassing for me now, I know the implications of such revelations too, it may invite trouble for me. But I felt I should speak out,” said Thiagarajan, currently working as a security consultant for a leading manufacturing company in Odisha.
Arputhammal believes that her son is a victim of the system. “He was actually fixed in the case. He was just 19 years old then. We did not have the money to appoint a good lawyer to fight his case during the crucial period of hearing. It was the government-appointed lawyer who fought his case. What had happened in the closed-door TADA court was not a trial but a one-sided judicial process, neither me nor the media allowed to witness the court proceedings,” she said.