TN’s longest-serving prisoner for 34 yrs awaits freedom

Natarajan, convict number 23937, was a fruit seller convicted for murdering a man named Rathinam on February 2, 1984, on Cross Cut Road in Coimbatore following an argument after he refused to pay up mamool. The Coimbatore session court sentenced him to life imprisonment on August 27.
Vasantha and Natarajan
Vasantha and Natarajan

CHENNAI: The release of six Raijv Gandhi assassination convicts has given a ray of hope to the family of Tamil Nadu’s longest-serving prisoner, who has remained in incarceration for more than 34 years.

Natarajan, convict number 23937, was a fruit seller convicted for murdering a man named Rathinam on February 2, 1984, on Cross Cut Road in Coimbatore following an argument after he refused to pay up mamool. The Coimbatore session court sentenced him to life imprisonment on August 27.

“It was an act of self-defence that upended our family,” said his wife Vasantha (57). Now a daily-wager at a cracker-making unit in Sivakasi, Vasantha managed to raise their daughter Pondy Selvi on her own. “I want my husband to be at my side when we get our daughter married. Will he come to us,” she said.

Pondy Selvi, now in her 20s, saw her father only once – when she was just 12 years old. “Now, our only connection is the weekly phone calls,” said Selvi finding it difficult to control her emotions. She appealed to Chief Minister MK Stalin to consider her situation as a father and consider her plea for Natarajan’s release.

In the initial years, Natarajan was allowed to come out on parole. But the 1995 violence inside Madurai central prison where he was lodged then put an end to it, as the prison department said he was involved in the incident. For more than two decades since then, he has not been given parole. These days, the only mode of communication between the 67-year-old inmate of the Vellore central prison and his family is the 10-minute weekly phone call and through letters.

A case under Arms Act (CR 113/1996) that was booked against him in Paramakudi also affected his chance of premature release. “It was a false case filed against him when he was out on parole,” said a prison official on condition of anonymity.

His nephew Selvakumar had met him once in November 2008 when he went to invite his uncle to his sister’s wedding. “After that, he asked us not to visit him,” Selvakumar said.

Natarajan has been working in the boot-making unit in the Vellore prison. “He is not a trouble-maker, but he has been denied remission citing the Arms Act case and prison riot,” said a source in the prison.

Madurai-based activist KR Raja said there were several deserving persons to languish behind the bars for several years. “Some died waiting for their release,” he said.

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