Having lived under the hangman's shadow for years and coming close to the gallows on two occasions, Murugan alias Sriharan, Santhan and Perarivalan, facing the capital punishment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, do not appear overwhelmed by the fear of death.
When jail authorities told them early in September they should be prepared for the worst, the three remained confident that there could still be a way out.
“When we were let out of solitary confinement after the Madras High Court stayed the execution scheduled for September 9, many inmates hugged us with tears of joy. We now continue to live on, with the hope that one day we will be able to walk out free,” says Murugan.
In this file photo, pictures of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts Murugan and Santhan are displayed during a rally in Vellore
At the Vellore central prison, where they are lodged in a high security block, the three have struck an emotional chord with the inmates. Santhan is the priest of the prison temple; he advises inmates on how spirituality, yoga and meditation can help in stress management. While Perarivalan teaches inmates computer applications and maintains the prison library, Murugan plays volleyball and other games with prisoners.
Even as uncertainty prevails and the noose dangles over them, they still talk about a life outside the prison.
“I will straight head to the Himalayas after my release… Going the spiritual way has helped me overcome the trauma of solitary confinement and the fear of execution for years. I am an ardent devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba,” says Santhan.
When this correspondent met him on October 25, Santhan, with holy ash spread across his forehead, said he hoped that God would not let him down and handed out a signed photograph of Sai Baba. The Sri Lankan national has no plan to return to his homeland since he has no family there and is not sure whether his parents are alive.
Murugan, also a Sri Lankan national, said he had vowed to visit the Meenakshi Sundareswar temple in Madurai, along with his wife Nalini, whose death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment. “We also want to visit the temple of our ‘kula deivam' [the family deity] near Jaffna. As a husband and father, I have many responsibilities to fulfil. Twenty years of incarceration has deprived my daughter of parental love and care. We hope to unite soon,” he says.
Murugan and Santhan, alleged to be hard-core members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's intelligence wing who provided logistics support for the assassination, claimed that they were falsely implicated because of the pressure on the investigating agency to fix them.
According to Murugan, the investigators assured him that the charges against him warranted only the minimum term in prison. “When we protested our arrest and denied the charges, the investigators assured all the three of us of the minimum term of imprisonment. But what we got was the death penalty. The resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly against our execution is a turning point in the struggle against the capital punishment in India. We are indebted to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa for this.”
D.R. Kaarthikeyan, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation who headed the Special Investigation Team that probed the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, feels Parliament should convene a special session to debate and decide on whether or not India should abolish the death penalty.
“We should not be deciding on individual cases, and there should be no influence of language or religion as it would affect the unity of the nation. Personally, I will be happy if the death penalty is abolished in India as it has been done in over 130 countries. Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was the rule of law in primitive societies. The reformative style of punishment has come to the fore, of late. It is ultimately the collective responsibility of society to decide on this,” he told The Hindu.
When told that the three condemned prisoners desired to meet him, he said: “If they write to me making a request and the prison authorities have no objection to it, I don't mind meeting them. I have nothing against them, and I only did my duty.” (Source: The Hindu)