11,299 Days

How an entire state got behind Arputhamammal in her quest to free her son

Cameras had followed Arputham when she marched into government offices and prisons for decades, with interviews appearing everywhere. Tamil cinema had long produced stories of tirelessly fierce mothers who fight for justice for their sons, and here was a story in the flesh. PALANI KUMAR FOR THE CARAVAN
31 December, 2022


ARPUTHAM HAD WAITED for this moment for 11,299 days. A large crowd had gathered at her house—lawyers, journalists, local political activists and friends. Throughout the morning, more reporters came flooding into the small railway town of Jolarpettai, making their way to the beige-painted house where her family lived. But Arputham herself was at a relative’s house nearby. She wanted to avoid the crowd and manage her expectations. For over three decades, she faced consistent disappointment, navigating her way through India’s labyrinthine court system. On that day, 18 May 2022, the Supreme Court was to decide whether her son, who had been out on bail since March, would finally be granted his freedom.  

AG Perarivalan had been convicted for the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s sixth prime minister. He was arrested as a 19-year-old, in June 1991, on flimsy grounds. The assassination shook the whole country but it had the most profound impact on Tamil Nadu, particularly in its aftermath. Perarivalan’s incarceration and Arputham’s battle to free him not only captured the imagination of the Tamil public but had a significant bearing on regional politics. “I was an ordinary woman then,” Arputham told me. “A home maker. In just a handful of days, my life turned upside down. People who were close to us till then deserted us, fearing that they would be in danger if they got in touch with us. I was alone, completely alone.”

She had decided to hear the judgment separately, because Perarivalan said it would be hard for her to see him if the day’s hearing at the Supreme Court did not deliver a favourable verdict.