Suicide to stop hanging - Protests against Rajiv Killers' execution grow in tamil nadu

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By G.C. SHEKHAR
  • Published 29.08.11
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The gallows at Vellore jail

Chennai, Aug. 28: A 27-year-old woman burnt herself to death today demanding the state government release the three death-row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The self-immolation is certain to raise the temperature of the state-wide protests against the scheduled executions at Vellore jail on September 9, and fears of a law-and-order situation could force the government to postpone the hangings. Three women high court lawyers have begun a fast unto death demanding the convicts be spared.

(From top) Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan

Senkodi, a member of Tamil nationalist group Makkal Manram, poured petrol on herself at Kancheepuram, 120km from Chennai, and shouted: “Free Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan.” She then set herself on fire around 6pm. Bystanders doused the flames but she died on the way to hospital.

“If my life can save their three lives, I will die happily,” said a note found in the plastic bag Senkodi carried. It urged Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa to free the three convicts, who have spent 21 years in jail.

The state has discretionary powers to commute death sentences to life terms. Arithra, the 20-year-old daughter of Murugan who lives in London with relatives, too has appealed to Jayalalithaa to spare her father’s life.

“I have met him and my mother Nalini only once as a 12-year-old and would like to meet them as many times as possible in the future, even if they cannot come out of jail,” she told a TV channel.

Nalini has been serving a life term in Chennai since her death sentence was commuted. Vellore jail authorities have given mother and daughter permission to visit Murugan every day till the hanging. Arithra said she had applied for a visa so that she could come to Vellore.

Perarivalan’s mother Aruptham has urged protesters across the state to gather in Chennai so that “the united voice of Tamil conscience will reach the right people to save the three lives”.

Unmindful of the protests, Vellore jail is sprucing up its rusty gallows: an asbestos-roofed shed over an iron beam and two trap doors. As the last hanging took place 28 years ago, the trap doors’ hinges and lever had become stiff.

But the prison’s enquiries towards having them repaired and oiled yielded no response from contractors since no one wants to be associated with the hanging.

“Our own staff repaired and lubricated the mechanism. We have now placed an order for the ropes,” a jail official said.

Although the gallows are designed for two simultaneous hangings, the jail plans to carry out the executions separately at 30-minute intervals beginning 4.30am. Prison officials will draw lots to decide the order in which the trio will be hanged. Each has been asked to disclose his last wish.

The convicts’ lawyers plan to file a fresh appeal in the high court to try and get the death sentences overturned on the ground of the delay in deciding the mercy petitions to the President.

“In the Haja Moideen case, Madras High Court had stopped the death sentence citing the two-year delay in turning down his mercy petition and the absence of any proper explanation from the authorities,” said Perarivalan’s lawyer, N. Chandrasekaran.

“The mercy petitions of these three convicts had been with the President since the year 2000 before they were rejected early this month.”

Ram Jethmalani is likely to argue the petition. If the high court rejects it, the trio can appeal to the state government.