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What Arivu’s fight and faith taught me

S Prabu Rama Subramanian writes: It gave me a perspective on human rights, lives of prisoners, and the politics of power. It also made me empathise with the failed attempts of Arpudham Ammal to bring her son Perarivalan, a convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, out of prison.

A G Perarivalan, Supreme court, Rajiv Gandhi assassination, Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Vellore, Indian express, Opinion, Current AffairsWhen the mercy petitions of Arivu and the others were denied in 2011, there were huge protests in Tamil Nadu. An activist named Sengodi set herself on fire in protest. It was with utter misery that I met Arivu and two others in Vellore jail that evening. (File)

MARTIN LUTHER King Jr famously said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I was too young to understand its actual meaning until my days at a law college in Salem. The other thing that opened my eye to the world of righteousness and morality was A G Perarivalan’s book An Appeal from the Death Row.

It gave me a perspective on human rights, lives of prisoners, and the politics of power. It also made me empathise with the failed attempts of Arpudham Ammal to bring her son Perarivalan, a convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, out of prison.

I wrote to Arivu (Perarivalan), who was in Vellore prison back then. I mentioned that I wanted to help him in some way, and he asked me to support him as a professional lawyer. We kept communicating for about two years. We read judgments like Bachchan Singh (on the doctrine of rarest of rare in case of death penalty), Machhi Singh (further establishing the same), Kehar Singh (on the pardoning powers of the President), and Vaitheeswaran and Triveniben (on implications of delays in executing the death penalty), and understood the vision of Justice V R Krishna Iyer and Justice Bhagwati, for figuring out the jurisprudence of the death penalty.

As it was a high-profile case, I took it up fully conscious of the tensions that surrounded it. In 2011, we joined hands with lawyers Rajeev Rupesh and Paari Vendhan. We camped at the office of Yug Mohit Chaudhry, a leading criminal lawyer at the Bombay High Court and a champion for the abolition of death penalty in India.

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When the mercy petitions of Arivu and the others were denied in 2011, there were huge protests in Tamil Nadu. An activist named Sengodi set herself on fire in protest. It was with utter misery that I met Arivu and two others in Vellore jail that evening. After an outcry from all corners, a resolution was passed in the state Assembly for the death sentence to be commuted. Then, the Madras HC stayed the execution, after which the case went to the Supreme Court.

One interview day, Arivu told me over the phone that he had received a letter from Bhubaneswar. I asked whether it was from former CBI officer V Thiagarajan, and he was surprised at my right guess. Since we had already researched that Thiagarajan, who was the CBI SP, Kerala Branch, at the time of the Rajiv assassination, was an officer from the Orissa cadre, it was easy for me to guess who could have written to Arivu.

Arivu said that Thiagarajan had expressed his willingness to help him. We took a train from Chennai to Bhubaneswar to meet him. In an affidavit dated October 27, 2017, Thiagarajan went on to submit that during the probe, he had “not recorded” Perarivalan’s statement saying that “he was totally in the dark as to the purpose for which the batteries were purchased”. Thiagarajan said he had not recorded it since “it would have been an exculpatory statement and hence the whole purpose of recording the confessional statement would be lost”. (The only charge against Perarivalan was that he bought two batteries that were subsequently used in making the bomb used to kill Rajiv Gandhi.)

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Perarivalan’s affidavit made a huge difference in the pending litigation in the Supreme Court. Though there have been instances in the past of investigative officers giving statements for reduction of death sentences, I think it was the first time an IPS officer of his rank came forward to give such an affidavit. This hugely helped the case and was a gift to Perarivalan’s fine character.

I also owe a lot to the faith that Arivu had in me. I was a junior lawyer, but he never questioned my ability. He said he wanted a lawyer who believed he was innocent.

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A huge contribution was also made by Gopal Sankaranarayan, who carries Arivu’s brief on his hands and heart. If Yug and Ram Jethmalani were the spines of the commutation case, Gopal Sankaranarayan was the brain. He helped us bring Thiagarajan’s affidavit on record before the apex court.

The Supreme Court’s judgment is also a slap on the face of officers who wrap up high-profile cases by going after innocents who are not remotely related to the offence.

The writer was Perarivalan’s counsel in SC

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First published on: 22-05-2022 at 03:31:35 am
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