Nalini Sriharan
File photo of Nalini Sriharan, a convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, outside Vellore central prison in July 2019 | ANI
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New Delhi: Nalini Sriharan, one of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, is making headlines after her lawyer P. Pugalenthi said she attempted suicide inside the Vellore Special Prison for Women Monday night.

Both police and other prison officials have, however, refuted the claims and said Nalini only threatened to commit suicide..

According to officials, an inquiry was conducted against Nalini Monday after an inmate complained of being harassed by her.

Sunil Kumar Singh, chief of Tamil Nadu prisons department, has been quoted as saying, “Nalini threatened to kill herself when the jail was inquiring into a harassment complaint. Another life convict has alleged that Nalini harasses her and wants to be shifted to a different cell. Nalini threatened to commit suicide if the woman was shifted.”

The six other convicts in the assassination case are A.G. Perarivalan, V. Sriharan alias Murugan (Nalini’s husband), T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas and Ravichandran. All of them were first sentenced to death but it was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Sriharan, Suthendraraja, Payas and Jayakumar are Sri Lankan nationals.

Also read: Madras High Court grants 30-day parole to Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict

Incarcerated for 29 years

Nalini, 53, is the longest-serving woman prisoner in India who has been behind the bars since 1991, immediately after Gandhi was killed by an LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) suicide bomber during a poll campaign in Sriperumbudur near Chennai on 21 May 1991.

On 27 November 2019, she had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madras High Court Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and the Tamil Nadu Home Secretary’s Office seeking mercy killing.

Her lawyer, Pugazhendhi Pandian, was quoted at the time as saying that Nalini had alleged being ill-treated by prison officials.

Later that year, Nalini and her husband Sriharan filed a petition in the Madras High Court seeking mercy killing.

In another petition that year, she had sought the court’s direction to the Tamil Nadu government to release her.

Nalini, in her petition, had said that her imprisonment from 9 September 2018 was illegal as the Tamil Nadu government had passed a Cabinet resolution recommending the release of seven convicts, including her, in the  assassination case. But the high court had, on 11 March, rejected her petition.

In the last 29 years, Nalini has stepped out of the prison only twice — first in 2016, for 12 hours, to attend her father’s funeral and second in July 2019, when she was granted a 51-day parole to make arrangements for her daughter Haritha’s wedding.

Haritha, raised in the UK, was born to Nalini in prison.

How Nalini was caught

Nalini, who was 24-year-old when the assassination took place, is a graduate in English language and Literature from Ethiraj College. She is the eldest child of Padmavati, a nurse, and P. Sankara Narayanan, a former police inspector.

Of the five-member squad behind the assassination, Nalini was the only one who was caught alive. Investigations have suggested that she accompanied the key conspirators, Sivarasan, Dhanu (the human bomb), Subha and Haribabu to Gandhi’s election rally at Sriperumbudur.

The police had recovered Haribabu’s camera, a freelance photographer, from the site of the blast which revealed photos of Nalini, Sivarasan, Dhanu and Subha.

In 2016, Nalini spoke about her childhood, marriage to Sriharan, arrest, childbirth, conviction and life imprisonment in a 500-page autobiography that has been compiled by journalist Ekalaivan. In the book, Nalini has also maintained that neither she nor her husband was aware of the assassination plan.

She also mentions her 2008 meeting with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Vellore prison in the book.

Also read: Congress, DMK in Lok Sabha demand Gandhi family be given SPG cover again


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