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October 13, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ S Duraisamy

'I have to defend the innocent'

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Like its owner, the visiting card is remarkable.

Lawyer S Duraisamy's name stares you straight in the face. But his address and telephone numbers survey the world upside down.

Typical, you can say, of the man who saw the Rajiv Gandhi assassination accused in a different light. When the world condemned them, Duraisamy was among the few who sympathised at their plight.

Unshaken by a frightening volley of hate mail and threats, he stood his ground to defend what seemed indefensible then. And succeeded. By snatching life for 22 of the 26 accused from the jaws of death: 19 acquitted and the sentence of three reduced to life.

In his modest apartment in Madras, the soft-spoken lawyer spoke to A G Nadar about his defence.

Since when have you been practising law?


You have always been a criminal defence lawyer?


When did you become a member of the Dravida Kazhagam?

Since my school days I have been a follower of Periyar [E V Ramasamy Naicker, founder of the Dravida movement]. Even today I am a follower. We have formed a separate party called Periyar Dravida Kazhagam three years back.

When did you get involved with the Sri Lanka Tamil issue?

Since the issue started we have been involved in it -- 1983. After the massacres in the northern parts, around Jaffna, all of India sympathised with them. We in the Dravida Kazhagam supported them whole-heartedly.

Before this case, have you handled anything that involved so much publicity?

During the Emergency there were a lot of excesses in jail. I was in jail for a year under the MISA [Maintenance of Internal Security Act]. People were tortured, some were beaten to death. After the Emergency a commission was appointed under Justice Ismail. I represented the victims. We examined the prison officials, jailers and superintendents. From their mouth I was able to get the answer that they had exceeded their authority. That was my first brush with the government.

And then this case.


When the court sentenced the accused to die, were you disappointed?

Of course, I was disappointed. The outcome of the arguments looked like they were in our favour. They should have been acquitted there [by the trial court] itself. Even the Supreme Court judgment shocked me. I don't think they will hang four of them. There is no evidence at all.

Do you expect all of them to be acquitted?

Definitely. They have not committed any offence at all.

Not committed any offence at all, or not committed any offence that can be proved in court?

They have not committed any offence.

You believe that.


What were they doing in Sriperumbudur?

Sivarasan and the others?


They committed [the crime]. These people are innocent.

So you are not talking about the LTTE. Only these accused.

Yes! Only these.

You pleaded in the trial court and then you pleaded in the Supreme Court. They have handed death sentences to four of your clients.

The Terrorist and Disruptive (Prevention) Act expired in 1996. Now the Supreme Court itself has said that in this case TADA is not applicable.

They have acquitted the charges under TADA. Then the proceedings in the TADA court have to go. The court says there is no terrorist activity in Rajiv Gandhi's case. If there is no terrorist activity, then the TADA court has no jurisdiction. So the proceedings in the TADA court will not be applicable in this case.

The case has to be reopened. Statements and confessions recorded under TADA cannot be, should not be, considered. When you take away those statements and the confessions, there is no case at all. There is no evidence.

You mean they have to be tried by a regular court now.

Only then should it be relied upon.

What about the photographs retrieved from the dead photographer's camera?

Sivarasan, Subha and Dhanu were seen there. We are not denying that.

Even Nalini was there.

We are not denying that. Other than Nalini, there were thousands of people there. [now Tamil Rajiv Congress leader] Vazhapadi [Ramamurthy] was there. [now Tamil Maanila Congress leader] Karuppaiah Moopanar was there.

They were Indians involved in the election campaign. Not Sri Lankans, who has nothing to do with the election.

Nalini is an Indian.

The other three?

The other three came only for killing Rajiv Gandhi.

Not these four accused?

No! Not these four accused. None of them were there.

They were elsewhere?

They were elsewhere. Actually, at that time according to the police, Perarivalan was seeing a cinema at the Devi theatre.

So your entire argument is that because the Supreme Court did not uphold the TADA act in this case, the entire case becomes invalid?

Not only that. There are other certain points.

Please tell us.

There are so many contradictory statements in the confession. According to one, Sivarasan was taken to Bangalore from Madras on 28th June and he was left in Bangalore on the 29th morning.

Inside a petrol tanker?

Yes. This is in the confession statement of three accused. Another statement says that on the 30th of June Sivarasan asked Santhan to come over to the Ashok Nagar cinema theatre. They were staying with a party in Madras. Now which confession has to be relied on? The court says we believe both confessions. This is not proper or possible. Like this there are so many contradictions.

There is Ranganath, your client, coming out with stories that the Special Investigation Team's D R Karthikeyan says he never told him. In one of the affidavits before the Jain Commission he had said the same thing. Also, in one of your petitions before the trial court, he gave the same facts.

In this case we used the statement because Ranganath's statement said only about this case.

Apart from the LTTE, is there somebody else involved?

Already he has said that in an affidavit to the Jain Commission when he was in Poonamalle jail. We have filed many petitions too. Now he is revealing it to the press that Chandra Swami and others are involved. We do not know why the Jain Commission didn't act.

The Jain Commission did not say anything. It is Karthikeyan who is denying it now.

Even before, they were told that Sivarasan used to talk about Chandra Swami and help from some other quarters in Delhi. They were threatened by the investigating authorities and beaten up by the police. He has lost his front teeth because of that.

Does it look like they were protecting somebody?

They want to throw the whole accusation against the LTTE only. They don't want to see anything beyond that.

Internationally, did somebody financed the LTTE?

We do not know if the LTTE was financed or where they picked up the people. They could have been engaged by the real conspirators, of course. That part we do not know.

There are rumours that the LTTE is targeting Sonia Gandhi. Is there any substance to it?

Even the Supreme Court says the LTTE must have known that if they kill an Indian leader in India they will lose the support of the people. Can we expect that at this stage they will do something like that? It is a rumour started by the CBI or some others who are frustrated because they lost in the Supreme Court.

Rajiv Gandhi was killed. Seventeen others died. You feel you did justice by defending the accused?

Of course, I feel sorry. The real culprits should be punished.

Not these people.

Definitely not.

What was the public reaction like when you took up this case?

Everybody was afraid. All the advocates were scared. I did not find any reason not to appear for them. The public reaction was against me. There were so may threatening calls. Congressmen attacked my office, my house. Even then I did not ask for protection. Even now I do not ask for protection. I thought I will appear for the innocent. I have to defend the innocent.

Guilty or innocent, everybody deserves a lawyer. What about your wife and children? Your child must have been in school then.

My family was proud of me.

They supported you. So are all the people in your house members of the Dravida Kazhagam?


Do you think this case will affect your future?

Yes! Definitely.

All the 'wrong' cases will come to you.

Wrong cases or right cases, rowdies and goondas will not come to me. This kind of political cases will come. In the RSS office bomb blasts, I am defending some of the accused.

We heard that P Nedumaran of the Tamil Desiya Ekam collected Rs 3.4 crore [Rs 34 million] for this case. How come you are living in this house?

[Laughs.] We did not collect so much. Of course, we had to spend a lot of money. The defence consists of a team of lawyers. We had to stay in Delhi.

For that you got people. Juniors and seniors?


So nobody wanted to be the main defence counsel, but they didn't mind assisting you.

After two or three years everybody was willing to come out openly.

Who is the senior advocate in Delhi.

N Natarajan.

Anything you would like to tell us?


'They are innocents. We'll do anything to free them.'

'The conclusion was a belt-bomb carried by a woman'

The Jain Commission controversy

The Rediff Interviews

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