‘His (Perarivalan) suffering lasted 31 years…ours is forever’: the families of Rajiv Gandhi assassination victim recall struggle

As the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of AG Perarivalanone of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, families of the victims who died with the former Prime Minister in a suicide bomb attack at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991, said the verdict was as an “injustice” to them.

Apart from Rajiv Gandhi, 15 others were killed in the bomb attack, including police personnel and Congress party workers. The Indianexpress.com traced some of their families, whose lives changed forever that day, and spoke to them post the Supreme Court verdict.

Anasuya Daisy Earnest, retired police officer

Now a retired police officer, Anasuya Daisy Earnest was a sub-inspector involved in the security arrangements at the Sriperumbudur rally when the blast took place. Badly injured, with burns and pellets embedded in her body, she was admitted to a hospital for nearly three months.

Anasuya Daisy Earnest was a sub-inspector involved in the security arrangements at the Sriperumbudur rally when the blast took place. (Source: Anasuya)

Recollecting how she felt when the TADA court in 1988 stipulated the seven convicts to death, Anasuya says, “I felt happy when they were given the death sentence. I felt that we were given true justice. But, over the last three decades, I saw these criminals get away with law as the sentence type kept reducing as they appealed, only to realise that they are now completely free.”

“This shows how the justice system is flawed and is only on paper in our country,” she says. “If they release these six convicts, then will they also release those convicted in the Coimbatore bomb blasts? Why keep them in jail, when they can just release everyone?” she questions.

Talking about how Perarivalan and his mother Arputhammal spoke about their 31-year long imprisonment, Anasuya says, “But, who asked them to be in jail for so long? Had the court followed with their death sentence, they would’ve been gone by now.”

Badly injured, with burns and pellets embedded in her body, she was admitted to a hospital for nearly three months. (Source: Anasuya Earnest)

“As an innocent, I am till date living with the pain, so when I see a criminal walk out free, it bothers me,” she says.

Anasuya believes that the convicts in the case were treated as “VIPs” throughout. “Through the years, they (convicts) kept coming out on parole, and spent time with their family. Even today, they are being given VIP treatment as though they did something big. CM MK Stalin greeted them with utmost respect and referred to Perarivalan’s mother as ‘amma’. Will he give me that much respect, too?” she asks.

Santhani Begum, Mahila Congress leader killed in blast
Her son Abbas, 40, a cellphone shop owner

For Abbas, who was 10 years’ old when his mother Santhani Begum was killed, Perarivalan’s release brought back haunting memories of how his family’s life changed in a flash 31 years ago.

“I was in Class II when I lost my mother — she was the South Chennai Mahila Congress president. I lost my father a few years before that. We were seven children, five brothers and two sisters, and my mother was the sole breadwinner of the family.”

Abbas, now 40, still remembers the day his mother was killed. “I remember my brother trying to stop my mother from attending the rally as we were alone at home. But she had to go as it was our leader, Rajiv Gandhi,” he says.

Santhani Begum (Source: Abbas)

Growing up without parents was a struggle, said Abbas. “There are no words to explain the struggles my siblings and I faced. It still haunts us to date,” he says. While a few victims and families of policemen got compensatory jobs, LPG distribution centers and so on, Abbas said that his family was ignored. “I met Rajiv Gandhi’s family in Delhi and sent them several letters seeking help. But I think the people in their office did not forward my letters. Congress leaders come to us to demand our support whenever there is a move to release the convicts in the case, but don’t bother about us at other times,” he says.

“Aer all that we have been through, when I heard about the verdict yesterday, I was extremely disappointed…this is injustice. How can we accept the verdict?” he asks.

Questioning if Perarivalan was the only one who suffered, Abbas says, “My mother returned home in a plastic bag. That was the image that I remember. Why does no one talk about our pain and suffering? For him (Perarivalan), it was a 31-year suffering, but, for us, it’s a suffering for life,” says Abbas.

What angers Abbas is how everyone is celebrating post the verdict, including the chief minister. “When I see people celebrate, all I can remember is how my family and I had shed tears and struggled to get one meal a day…why does no one think of us?” he questions.

Dharman, police constable killed in blast
His son Rajkumar, works at a hotel

Dharman was a Special Branch head constable in Kancheepuram. Describing the incident, Dharman’s son Rajasekhar had earlier told The Indian Express, “We were enjoying our summer vacation at a relative’s house in Red Hills near Chennai when a policeman arrived at our doorstep with the news that Appa had been killed in the blast. I was in Class VIII, my sister was just 10 years’ old and my brother was five.”

Dharman’s younger son Rajkumar said that once his father died, his mother had to step up and take over the responsibility of the family. “Our life completely changed after that day. But, somehow, we managed to come up and succeed in life,” he says.

Dharman was a Special Branch head constable in Kancheepuram. (Source: Rajkumar)

Rajkumar did not mind that Perarivalan was set free. “See, he served most of his life for 31 years now and his case is different, since he bought the two 9-volt batteries used for the attack. Whether it’s true or not, we don’t know,” he says.

“Perarivalan in jail or not does not matter to us because at the end of the day, it won’t bring our father back to us. We are still happy and have continued to live our lives,” he says.

Rajkumar, however, said that it saddened him to see the respect and treatment given to Perarivalan after the verdict. “If I want to meet the chief minister today, it will be so hard, because I am a normal person. But, how is it that a criminal who was recently released gets to meet the CM and gets royal treatment from him with a hug? Not just that, people are also celebrating by bursting crackers, which really angers me,” he says. “Why did we not get the importance that these convicts are getting?” he asks. He wishes to take the issue up with the government soon.

Edward Joseph, police inspector killed in blast
John Joseph, brother, retired government employee

Edward Joseph’s brother John, who retired from the state secretariat, had earlier filed a separate appeal in the Supreme Court against the release of the convicts. The blast left Edward’s wife, who was a teacher, and two daughters, five and seven years’ old, alone.

“Edward was 39 years old when he was killed, I was three years younger. I was at my house in Chennai when a police constable came to tell me that he had an “accident”. Till I reached the mortuary, I did not know that he had died,” John recalls. “The suffering was there for all families, and continues to be there till date. These scars don’t erase easily.”

“This case, especially Perarivalan’s case, is politically motivated. Everyone (political parties) wants to take credit for his release,” says John. He also questioned the role of the Jain Commission which was set up to investigate the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

“Verdict is extremely disappointing. This just shows that criminals can get away with anything. What is the guarantee that this won’t happen again?” asks John, questioning the celebrations after the verdict. “People are bursting crackers, dancing on the roads after the verdict. Was Perarivalan a freedom fighter for such celebrations? Do we not deserve any compensation?”


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