Halfway into the phone conversation, P Sukumaran breaks into tears. When he is told that the young woman he is giving a kidney to sees him as a father, Sukumaran goes silent for a few seconds. “Vakkukal illa (I have no words),” he finally replies, his voice quivering.
Sukumaran, 46, who served seven years in jail for murder before being released last July, is set to donate one of his kidneys to Princy Thankachan, 21. Sukumar’s case is seen as instrumental in the Kerala cabinet’s landmark decision in January allowing prisoners to donate their organs. During his time in jail, Sukumaran said he was troubled to learn that there were legal impediments for convicted offenders seeking to donate organs, even to their own family members.
So he wrote frequent letters to jail authorities and government officials. “When I was out on parole in 2015, I came to know about a young man called Sreekumar who needed a kidney transplant. I went with him to the hospital and did tests and they came out positive. But I couldn’t do the transplant because of legal issues… and he died,” says Sukumaran. “In his eyes, I could see the joy of getting his life back. He was only 24.”
Sukumaran does not like to delve too much into the events of 2007 that led to his imprisonment. He does reveal the basic details. “My uncle [father’s brother] wanted a mobile tower installed in the area. A few locals and I were opposed to it. There was a scuffle during which I hit him because I couldn’t control myself. He died. I surrendered,” he says.
After 127 days at the sub-jail in Ottapalam, Sukumaran was pronounced guilty and sentenced to life by a fast-track court in Palakkad. He was transferred to the central jail in Kannur and then, on account of good conduct, transferred to an open jail in Thiruvananthapuram. A Kerala High Court judge later reduced his sentence to seven years, leading to his release last year.
“Ente kayyondu oru jeevitham nashtapettu (A life was lost at my hands),” Sukumaran says. “When I went to jail, my family was shattered. So if I can, in any way, prevent someone from dying, that family will be saved,” says Sukumaran, who does welding work. His elder daughter is married and his younger son is engaged in aluminium fabrication work.
Princy, who will undergo the transplant at a private hospital in Kochi later this month, comes from a financially weak family with a history of kidney disorders. She lost her mother 13 years ago; two of her uncles too died of kidney disorders. Two of her cousins, both women, are currently undergoing extensive dialysis sessions.
Though both of them live far from Kochi, where the surgery is due, Princy says Sukumar would always come an hour early for tests. “He would get me water, run around for medicines and bills. He calls me Ammu. He’s like my father,” says Princy, both of whose kidneys malfunctioned nearly three years ago.
With her family unable to afford Rs 15 lakh for surgery and other expenses, locals and ward councillors in her neighbourhood are in the process of collecting funds. A joint banking account has been set up.
“At a time when I had no hope, I had the chance to know him (Sukumaran). He’s giving me a part of his life,” Princy says.