On 21st May 1991 the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber as he was speaking to an election rally in Sriperumputhur in Tamilnadu. The young Tamil woman died with him. Within three weeks, the Indian intelligence service reached the conclusion that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were responsible and cited the 1987 agreement between the Indian and Srilankan Government and the resulting Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka as the apparent motive for the assassination.
In a political atmosphere charged with communal hysteria, a special unit (SIT) of the intelligence service was created to investigate the background of the assassination. In May 1992, it filed charges against 41 Tamil people in a lengthy report citing 1180 "material objects" and 1477 documents. Of the 41 accused people, 12 were dead and 26 had spent many months in prison without charges.
The conspiracy was supposedly masterminded by the deceased Sivarasan. Those charged with the assassination died at the scene of the crime (or) committed suicide facing imminent arrest.
The trial and the punishment:
The threads of the conspiracy incriminating them were woven from retracted confessions made by 17 of the accused in police custody. Such confessions made in the absence of a magistrate or third persons such as an advocate would not be acceptable as evidence under the Indian Penal Code. However, this was a special case, being tried under a special law. The "Terrorism and Disruptive Act (TADA)"overrules normal jurisprudence. It allows any confession "made to the police not lower in rank than a SP". A confession becomes an important evidence, as it is considered inherently true, made in a fit of remorse. Yet how do we explain that these bouts of remorse that compelled the prisoners to make damning statements against themselves did not last beyond the period of police custody? A clue to the mystery lies in the story of the twenty seventh accused. Shanmugam is reported to have made his confession on the very day of his arrest on 17th July 1991. The police would have us believe that the honest prisoner managed to escape immediately after. Having successfully evaded the powerful Special Investigative Team, Shanmugam was found "dead by suicidal hanging" in a neighbouring park the next day.
A fair trial?:
In May 1993, two years after most of the arrests and a year after the charge sheet was filed, the trial was opened in the high security prison-cum-court in South Indian Tamil Nadu. From the 1014 witnesses originally registered, 288 were selected. They were referred to through numbers, their identity was kept anonymous. The trial was held "in camera", out of public scrutiny.
The judgement dismissed all seventeen statements that the signatures had been obtained under threat and coercion. It disregarded allegations of illegal custody of many of the accused before they were presented in court, which would normally give rise to reasonable doubt that coercion was used. Yet Shanmugan’s mysterious death raises urgent questions on the conditions in police custody in which "voluntary confessions" are routinely made.
On the 28th January 1998 all 26 men and women were condemned to death by hanging. Their individual culpability and motive was inferred on the basis of general observations which would apply to a majority of the Tamil community.
The judge openly justified this "Rarest of Rare cases" as a future deterrent and sentenced the 26 to death. If the acquittal by the supreme court of 19 of the 26 condemned to death brings into question the politically biased and prejudiced conditions under which the death sentence for the 26 were passed, it is also so that the insistence on carrying out the death sentence on four of the 26 shows that vengeance takes primacy over reason and justice. The fact that two of those condemned to death (Nalini and Perarivalan) are Indian Tamils is clearly a message to the 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu that merely having an acquaintance or speaking to a supporter of the Tamil Tigers from Sri Lanka is enough to put your life in danger.
The whole legal process has been marked by no real evidence connecting any of the 26 to the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. The circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution only proves that certain of the accused knew those who the Indian state accuses of carrying out the murder. There is absolutely no evidence to point to a conspiracy for any of the accused. In fact the ‘evidence’ that the Indian state presents to prove that Sivarasan (see above) was the mastermind behind the murder shows exactly the opposite. A message relied upon by the Prosecution to prove conspiracy has Sivarasan supposedly saying: "We three only are aware of the plan." This message, presented by the Prosecution, which explicitly restricts knowledge to three individuals, (all three since dead) is incredibly used to implicate those facing the death sentence now!
A Perarivalan Mother requests your support to get justice for her son who has been wrongly jailed for last 20 years from the age of 19:
A plea from death row – A.G. PERARIVALAN:
Every time when I fail in my fight for truth, I regain my confidence by remembering those words of William Penn. I have a special sense of pride on being on the side of truth.
How shall I introduce myself? As the only son of a poor school teacher who instilled ethics in hundreds of students? Or as the son of a mother who taught me that morality and humanism are the two eyes of life? I don’t know. Though I would like to introduce myself like this, I have already been introduced in a way that I did not like. That is: A.G. Perarivalan, a death convict in Rajiv Gandhi murder case. Yes, it is my identity, I cannot avoid it.
It was a great tragedy that a man roaming on the streets 20 years ago was suddenly portrayed as a terrorist and murderer. I have never imagined that empathising with fellow human beings’ sufferings and joining the effort to wipe their tears would be considered murderous. I have never been involved in killing anyone, let alone Rajiv Gandhi. I have never harboured such a thought. My love for Thanthai Periyar’s thoughts was the first weapon for the oppressing forces to portray me as a murderer; my never ending interest in our Eelam Tamils’ struggle was the second.
At the age of 19, I was tortured by investigative agencies and was portrayed as a bomb-making specialist by the media just because I had a diploma in electronics and communication. But K. Rahottaman, the chief investigation officer in the Rajiv case, who retired in 2005 as DSP, said they had no evidence.
Of the 26 persons arrested in the case, 17 have recorded confessional statements under TADA. All the 17 confessional statements were recorded by CBI SP Thiagarajan. Thomas Vergese, Assistant SP, resigned because his superior, Thiagarajan, forced him to close the Sister Abaya murder as a suicide case. Sixteen years later, in 2009, the Sister Abaya case was investigated and her murderers were arrested.
Thiagarajan had tried to produce false documents to save some of the accused. Any need to mention how he would have got confessional statements in the Rajiv Gandhi case?
The ‘killer’ image painted on me is slowly fading now. When the investigation report by the multidisciplinary monitoring committee (MDMA) that was constituted by orders of Jain Commission comes out, many truths will come to light. With the help of TADA, an Act which is against human rights, a terrifying story was foisted upon innocents like me.
If the death penalty can be given to a man for buying two ordinary 9 volt battery cells, if 20 years of his youth can be robbed, I sincerely doubt there is justice in the world. The Tamil book I wrote about the hidden truths in my case, An Appeal from Death Row, has been published in six editions and sold 11,700 copies. The letters written by retired SC Justice and human rights activist V.R.Krishna Iyer to the PM, Sonia Gandhi and the CM of Tamil Nadu were victories after a long and painful struggle.
The letter by retired Justice H Suresh of Mumbai High court, the letter by a member of the Assembly from my native place, and the support being given by my school teacher, village people soothed my broken heart. I want to ask those who love Rajiv Gandhi and those who criticise him, do you really want an innocent man to be hanged? I hope people like you who are humane and follow the path of justice will not agree.
Please lend your ears to the voice of truth raised by a man who has no political influence and money power. If the truth I told you touch the bottom of your heart, let your strong voices be raised for my freedom. Let justice prevail.
I had not committed any offence according to law. Also I am innocent according to justice. Still more than the justice is on my side the fact that the diseased had occupied a high position only dominated and decided the fate of this case.
I may be asked that if I had raised all the above points in my review petition, the Judges might have realised the truth. The fact is that my advocate in his review petition argument had placed more points than I have mentioned above.
We have stated in our review petition about my innocence and injustices inflicted on me. Still justice had been denied.
The tragedy is that justice Wadhwa in his order regarding the review petition had stated "Mr.Natarajan who appeared for the convict review petitioners submitted that he was not challenging the findings of guilt of the petitioners and was confining the review only on the questions of award of death sentence.”
I am confident that you will understand if you go through my written review petition. I had full hope in the justice of the Supreme Court.
But I was disappointed in the worst possible manner. I hope that you would not consider this as my allegation against judiciary.
I can confidently state that in my case, the truth is that there was an error of judgement by court. Also I know, that generally world will accept only the statement of Court.
I am much bothered to establish the truth with intellectuals and human rights activists in you at last. I can confidently state that even though you could not sign my release order, if at any moment, you realise that I am innocent, that itself would be a victory for my release.
You are aware of the big opposition to TADA. Also you know that the reason for the opposition is sec. 15 of TADA Act related to confession statements.
My case was filed under this horrible Act. It is highly distressing to know that though in the end the Court had declared that we were not terrorists and TADA was inapplicable to this case, the Court had upheld the section of TADA related to confession statement and had awarded the maximum punishment of death sentence only on the basis of confession statement. The painful fact is that numbers 12,15 had demanded our life as the price for their game.
Hence I could painfully recall the following rules of Lenin when I came to know of the judgement of Supreme Court.
"Judges had supported worst possible crimes in the world. Hence, just because both the sides of a case are heard by judges, don't think truth will come out".
Many times only the personal whims and fancies made the future of many a question mark. In the past there were many examples to this. In the past when Kehar Singh was hanged brutally, none raised their voice. But today I have realised that my position is not like this. I am happy to state it here. The voices raised for me encouraged me. They show the seed of confidence about my future.
This representation of mine is no hollow emotional outburst. They are the truths in the mind of the person who is innocent. I have belief that ultimately truth will triumph. The facts happened within the four walls shall be known to many. This representation is its result.
Sometimes in my long struggle for justice this letter might cause the joining of many more hearts of human love. Hoping for the same, I am writing this eagerly.
My prayer is kindly consider this letter with an open mind and judge strictly according to law.
Kindly look at the sacrifices and commitment of a mother fighting for justice to her son for nine years. Truth must triumph atleast for her perseverance to get justice. Kindly help.
To me, there is no prior example of a person who sought for justice after the confirmation in the Supreme Court. Still I plead. To that extent I had suffered injustice. Kindly wipe out my sufferings.
Let suffering end with me. Let justice be equal to all when the sun rises the next morning. Let the murder of innocents using law end. I conclude this representation for justice citing the quotation of Thiruvalluvar who had given a common code for the world.
“Whatever be the nature of a thing getting the truth in that thing is reason.”
Let justice be won.
The Supreme Court, rightly held that as against the accused, including Arivu, the TADA charges were not sustainable. However, the Judges said that the accused could be convicted under S.302 Indian Penal Code together with S. 120-B, etc. for conspiracy. What is the evidence for the charge of conspiracy? The evidence clearly indicated that if at all there could be any conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi, it was confined to Dhanu, Sivarasan and Suba. As far as the rest of the accused who have been convicted by the Supreme Court, the only evidence was respective confessional statements recorded under TADA, which could not have been admissible in evidence in respect of charges under the Indian Penal Code! The only other evidence against Arivu was his buying a 9-volt battery cell.
It appears that Justice Wadhwa had observed (at page 87 of his judgement) that "no complaint was made before the trial court that confession was the result of any coercion, threat or use of any third degree methods or even playing upon the psychology of the accused."
This was contrary to the fact that such complaints were all on record. However, this also shows how naive the judges were in that they could think that the accused would so voluntarily make a statement confessing their guilt, as if the atmosphere in a police station could be so free and fair!
Arivu, when he was arrested, was a 19 year old boy. He is now 40 years and his behavior in the jail has been exemplary. He has continued his education to become a Bachelor of Computer Applications.(BCA). He is the only son of his aged parents. He has been in jail for 20 years with a sword handing over his head, which in itself is the worst violation of human rights.
I recall what Mrs. Gladys Staines, when told of the death of her husband and two children at the hands of bigots, could say: "May God forgive them". Such is her nobility. It appears that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has also categorically stated that she does not want these accused to be hanged. It is for the President to exercise his power of clemency. In the case of A.G. Perarivalan, he rightly deserves this power of clemency be extended to pardon him and release him. Twenty years of imprisonment is too long a suffering for conviction of a crime based on slender and not so credible evidence.
JUSTICE H. SURESH
Former Judge, Bombay High Court
(for the foreward written in 2006)
PERARIVALAN is now under sentence of death in the Vellore Jail. His soul is precious, his values noble, his jail life has not made him a criminal. Indeed, he redeems his colleagues and his book is evidence of the noble work of the man.
He has made an appeal against death sentence. I agree with him that death sentence is no longer valid in putting an end to murder.
Life is dear and given by God. Man, as Gandhiji put it has no right to take it away. I support this stand and hope that like many other countries India too will abolish death sentence.
“Death Penalty is nothing but a judicially sanctioned murder, executed on a planned date and time.”
V.R. KRISHNA IYER
Former Justice of Supreme Court
2006 July 31.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
— Martin Luther King Jr.