ELEVEN YEARS ago, he hacked his uncle to death in a fit of rage following a dispute over erecting a mobile tower near their adjoining homes. Today, his life is all about giving a life.
Earlier this year, A Sukumaran, a resident of Pattambi in Kerala’s Palakkad district, donated one of his kidneys to a woman, after a failed attempt at an earlier donation led to the state amending its organ donation law. Then, he mobilised money to help the ill wife of a former fellow prisoner who had died after being released from jail. Today, he is all set to marry her, and adopt her four-year-old son.
“I wanted to do something to atone,” says the 47-year-old former welder who now sells lottery tickets in Pattambi.
His life has come a full circle, Sukumaran says, since that day in 2007 when he attacked his uncle over what he describes as a “trivial matter”. “The moment my uncle Vasu’s blood fell on me, I felt guilty. I called the police and waited till they came,” he says.
The Palakkad district sessions court sentenced Sukumaran to life imprisonment on October 28, 2010. Lodged in the Kannur central jail, he says he could not forget the family he had “orphaned” — his uncle had wife, two sons and a daughter.
Then, in December 2014, he came across a newspaper report in jail about a couple, Arya Maharshi and Simi from Thrissur, who had donated their kidneys to non-related recipients. With help from the jail’s welfare officer, he wrote to Maharshi, expressing his desire to donate a kidney. A month later, the couple conducted am “enlightenment session” in prison. At the end of the session, a dozen convicts, including Sukumaran, expressed their desire for organ donation.
Sukumaran then came to know about T V Sreekumar, a 26-year-old suffering from a kidney ailment. He wrote to the authorities, expressing his desire to donate a kidney but the state’s Prisons Department replied that there was no rule that allows a prisoner to donate an organ. On July 24, 2015, Sreekumar died due to complications caused by his kidney ailment.
But he could not let go, says Sukumaran. So he wrote to the authorities again, this time copying his letter to the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala. His request was referred to the Law Department which, in July 2015, decided that there was no hurdle to prevent a convict from donating organs. A year later, a government order was issued to this effect.
In the meantime, Sukumaran had moved the Kerala High Court against his sentence. In October 2015, the High Court commuted his life term to ten years of imprisonment and transferred him to the open jail in Thiruvananthapuram. There, citing his good conduct, Sukumaran was released in July 2017.
“Although I had fought for a prisoner’s right to donate organs, I could not do so while in jail. After being released, I went to Santhi Medical Information Centre in Guruvayur, which helps people who need kidney transplants,” says Sukumaran.
The centre helped him reach Princy Thankachan, 21, of Kollam who had been undergoing dialysis for five years. Money for the surgery was raised through crowd-funding and the transplant was done five months ago.
Meanwhile, Sukumaran says, he had got estranged from his wife and two children while in jail. In 2013, he had transferred the eight cents of land that he owned to his wife so that she could pledge the property to source money for their daughter’s marriage. “I attended the marriage while I was in prison. Later, a dispute over financial matters distanced me from the family. By the time I was released, the separation was complete,” he says.
After his release, Sukumaran started living in a lodge at Pattambi, doing odd jobs for daily wages. Last August, he contacted A Basheer, a fellow convict. “Basheer was convicted of theft and had been released before. His wife Samitha answered the phone. She told me that Basheer had died of a cardiac arrest in 2017,’’ he says.
According to Samitha, she and Basheer had a love marriage. “After our marriage, my family abandoned me. Everyone hated us after Basheer got involved in a theft case. After his death, I was alone with my four-year-old son,” she says.
“I was suffering from appendicitis and there was no one to take care of her. With support from the medical information centre, Sukumaran helped me get hospitalised,” says Samitha.
“She was in a critical stage. I had to arrange money from philanthropists for her treatment. Samitha recovered after two months. We shared our stories and realised we are in the same situation. When she left the hospital, I took her in my life,’’ says Sukumaran.
Last year, the two started living together in a rented home near Pattambi. “We plan to get legally married soon,” he says.
According to K V Mahesh, the then welfare officer at Kannur’s central jail, Sukumaran’s story is “one of transformation”.
“He had an acute sense of guilt over the murder he had committed. In jail, he used to always tell us that he wanted to atone for his crime. He started by donating his wages from jail work to the needy outside. Then, he started motivating fellow prisoners for organ donation,’’ says Mahesh.