PUDR hails the release of A. G. Perarivalan by the Supreme Court on May 18, 2022. A life-imprisonment convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case (1991), Perarivalan’s over thirty- year struggle for justice raises several issues, ranging from the unfairness of long incarceration to the uncommon fight that his mother, Arputhammal, has waged. Equally, the Supreme Court’s ruling—to uphold the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to pardon Perarivalam as “binding” on the Governor—is a bold intervention in the legal wrangle that ensued from 2014 onwards. For all these reasons, the release of Perarivalan creates hopes for future struggles against long incarceration in terror related cases, including for the six accused held under life imprisonment in the same case.
In particular, the apex court’s decision raises hope for the four forgotten convicts of the Bara massacre (1992) who were sentenced to death by a TADA designated court in 2001 and their sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2002. Their mercy petitions, dispatched in 2003, remained unaddressed for well over a decade. In 2017, the President of India commuted their sentences on grounds of inordinate delay. Sadly, even today, their long incarceration remains ‘unfixed’ as there is no clarification regarding the length of their life imprisonment. It is hoped that the release of Perarivalan will highlight the plight of the impoverished convicts and help in their release.
Perarivalan’s release draws attention to the presence of infamous provisions in anti-terror laws. It may be recalled that in 2013, the then retired CBI Inspector, V. Thiagrajan, had revealed that during investigation Perarivalan had admitted to buying two batteries but that he was unaware of the conspiracy. Mr Thiagrajan had said: “As an investigator, it put me in a dilemma. It 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.” In short, Mr Thiagrajan’s statement amply shows that confessions permitted under TADA allowed for the suppression of truth, a matter of immense significance in the context of extraordinary laws meant for terror cases.
It bears remembering that in 2017, Mr Thiagrajan’s affidavit to the Supreme Court coincided with the comments made by retd Supreme Court judge, K.T. Thomas (who headed the bench that confirmed death penalty in this case, in 1999). In a letter to the Congress President, Justice Thomas drew attention to the “serious flaws” in the investigation. While the top court did not reopen the investigation, there is reason to be heartened by the present decision as it has come in the wake of tireless struggles undertaken by Perarivalan, his lawyers, his family, by activists, and by the Tamil Nadu government.
In the case of the four Bara convicts, as the PUDR report (2016) shows, the application of TADA made the investigation and the trial terribly unfair. The accused, arrested between 1993 and 1999, have never been released on bail and three of the four convicts belong to landless dalit peasant families. Even though TADA was repealed in 1995, the Bara victims were condemned to death under it as late as 2002. Today, it is necessary to demand their release because their long incarceration is a reminder of the anti-poor biases that are inherent in the criminal justice system.
Perarivalan’s case also raises the hope that a concerted struggle will happen to repeal the draconian sections of UAPA which fail to provide justice as they reverse the burden of proof on to the accused. It is time to reiterate the significance of the rule of law enshrined in the belief that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.
Deepika Tandon and Shahana Bhattacharya