Feature Article

Tamil Nadu tensed over execution of death sentences

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 30 August 2011, 06:41 GMT]
The people of Tamil Nadu and Tamils all over the world are agitated over the Indian government decision to execute death sentences to three Tamils after keeping them in prison for more than 20 years. Perarivalan of Tamil Nadu, and Eezham Tamils Murugan and Shanthan arrested in 1991 on charges of involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi were sentenced to death in 1998. Their clemency petition was rejected last month and the hangings are fixed to September 9. The politics behind the case is 30 years of India-involved war in the island of Sri Lanka that turned into genocide of Eezham Tamils. While the Indian foreign minister in the parliament last week sought to respond to the war crimes investigations without endangering India’s relations with Sri Lanka, the hangings are sure to endanger New Delhi’s relations with Tamils, political observers said.

Ms. Chengkodi
Protests against the execution order gain momentum in Tamil Nadu, as political parties, political and social activists, lawyers, students and film artists are seen intensely mobilised.

In Kaagncheepuram in Tamil Nadu, 20-year-old Ms. Chengkodi Parasuraman on Sunday succumbed to self-immolation committed by her in front of the Taluk office, protesting the death sentences. She was an activist of a civil society movement, Makka’l Man’ram (People’s Assembly).

In a letter written by her, she remembered Muththukkumar who committed self-immolation in 2009, protesting war against Eezham Tamils, and said that her act should save the lives of the three sentenced to death.

Tamil Nadu leaders strongly voiced against self-immolation being a form of protest in the issue.

Meanwhile, in many places students and lawyers have entered into fasting campaign against capital punishment.

“When someone has been imprisoned for 20 years, which is more than a life term, how could he be hanged?” asked the residents of one of the victims hometown, The New Indian Express reported Sunday.

* * *

On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi, who was on an election campaign was assassinated by a female human bomb at Sri-perum-poothoor in Tamil Nadu.

After killing a group of Eezham Tamils suspected as accomplices in a police round up in Karnataka, the Indian authorities further accused 26 persons, 13 Eezham Tamils and 13 Tamil Nadu Tamils and charges were filed under the notorious Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).

In 1995, the Indian authorities withdrew the TADA legislation, following criticism from human rights organisations, but the trials of those accused and their appeals continued under TADA.

A special court sentenced all the 26 to death in January 1998 and blamed that the LTTE was responsible for the assassination.

Critiques of the trial point out several inaccuracies and failure to investigate traces that could lead to expose the involvement of Congress related personalities and alleged conspiracies of wider significance with an international dimension.

Several human rights watchdogs have protested stating that the accused may not have received a fair trial according to international standards. The Amnesty International has noted that the judge involved in the investigations had indicated the sentences were handed down for “deterrent purposes”.

In May 1999, the Indian Supreme Court had acquitted 19 of the 26 accused in the case, but confirmed the death sentences passed on four: two Indian Tamils, Nalini Sriharan and A. Gna. Perarivalan; and two Eezham Tamils: Sriharan (Murugan) and Shanthan.

Nalini, Murugan and Shanthan are the first three accused in the case. Perarivalan is the 18th accused.

Nalini's death sentence was commuted to life sentence in August 2000.

Murugan and Nalini are husband and wife. Nalini was 3-months pregnant when she was detained. Their daughter, Harithra Murugan, who now lives in UK studying medicine, has appealed to the masses through BBC Tamil on Saturday.

Murugan's mother Somany Vetrivelu, has also come up with public appeal to save her son.

Nalini and Murugan passed Master of Computer Applications (MCA) examinations with a first class degree in September 2009 inside the Vellore prison.

The whereabouts of Shanthan's elderly father who was living in Vanni is not known following the genocidal war in 2009.

Perarivalan's role in the assassination, as alleged in the charge sheet, is that he bought two batteries that were used by the assassins.

Perarivalan's 70-year-old mother, K. Atputham Ammaa'l, has been tirelessly fighting for the release of her son.

Perarivalan, jailed at 19, has become an articulate writer inside the prison.

A book by him and a translated version of it in Hindi, An Appeal From The Death Row (Rajiv Murder Case — The Truth Speaks), were published recently.

Perarivalan details in his book how the authorities “extracted” the so-called confession statement from the victims under severe torture. The torture meted out on the accused in the Rajiv case was similar to what has been exposed of the happenings at the US military detention in Guantanamo Bay, say critiques of the investigation.

* * *

Along with the Tamil activists clemency was rejected for Khalistani activist Prof Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and Kashmiri activist Afzal Guru too. However, the execution of the death sentences is first carried out in the case of the Tamil activists.

The protest is being carried out on two platforms. Besides the political platform, there are protestors who on principle want to abolish all capital punishment.

Political activists have appealed to the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu to take up the matter with the Home Ministry to seek justice for their respective (state’s) citizens.

In the matter of Tamil activists a case also has been filed in the Madras High Court challenging the validity of the execution after the convicted have served a life term in prison.

However, while her State is in the midst of unprecedented tension, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha, who has been maintaining an eerie silence, on Monday came with a report saying that once the clemency petition has been rejected by the President of India, the Chief Minister of a State had no role to play.

Ms. Jayalalithaa quoted a paragraph from a letter by the Centre, dated 05 March 1991:

“The Government of India, on an examination of the matter, and after taking all relevant constitutional aspects into view, direct in terms of article 257(1) of the Constitution of India that in cases of death sentences where a petition for grant of pardon etc. has earlier been rejected by the President of India in exercise of his powers under article 72 of the Constitution of India, it would not be open for the Government of a State to seek to exercise similar powers under article 161 in respect of the same case. However, if there is a change of circumstances or if any new material is available, the condemned person himself or any one on his behalf may make a fresh application to the President for reconsideration of the earlier order. Once the President has rejected a mercy petition, all future applications in this behalf should be addressed to and would be dealt with by the President of India.”

However, former Supreme Court Judge and Honorary President of People’s Movement Against Death Penalty, V. R. Krishna Iyer, in a fresh letter Ms. Jayalalithaa on Monday urged her to intervene and argued that both Ms. Jayalalithaa and the State Government could still play a meaningful role:

“Once at the instance of the State Home Minister, the Governor has rejected the commutation jurisdiction, there is no bar in exercising that power over again. But the President’s clemency power once exercised by rejection, it is administratively odd and improper for the Governor to grant clemency in a case where the President has already rejected clemency. In such a case, administrative harmony and propriety will be best sustained by the Home Minister or Chief Secretary writing to the Home Secretary of the centre to persuade the President to reconsider his earlier rejection of the reprieve petition in view of the state wide protest against hanging of the three lives on a large scale. The President can do it because this power of clemency can be exercised more than once and is not exhausted by one exercise if the Home Secretary will move the President again to reconsider his rejection and favourably grant commutation.”

The thirty years war associated with the case has taken the lives of an estimated 200,000 Eezham Tamil civilians and comparatively a negligible number of Sinhala and Muslim civilians in the island, apart from fallen combatants on all sides. But the genocidal war has neither seen a political solution nor a trial of those who had the command responsibility.

The way New Delhi was acting over the decades, a situation is fast developing where the people of Tamil Nadu have started considering justice to the Eezham genocide as a personal issue of theirs. Imperceptibly they have taken the onus of voicing for the silenced masses of Eezham Tamils.

Against such a backdrop, what is in the psyche of those who steer the New Delhi establishment and what is that they try to convey by timing the executions after 20 years of imprisonment, have become matters for intense discussion inside and outside of India.


Related Articles:
10.05.99   Nineteen acquitted in Rajiv Ghandhi case
01.02.98   Amnesty concerned over Indian convictions

External Links:
BBC Tamil: தூக்குத் தண்டனையிலிருந்து காப்பாற்ற மு&#


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