A day after the Supreme Court ordered freeing of six remaining life-term convicts in the 1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassination case after 31 years in jail, five of them — Nalini Sriharan, her husband Murugan, and Santhan, Robert Payas and Jayakumar — were formally released from Tamil Nadu jails on Saturday evening. Convict RP Ravichandran was also due for release anytime.
“It’s a new life for me with my husband and daughter,” she said after coming out. “I thank Tamil people for supporting me,” she said, but denied that she’d enter public life. She also thanked the state and central governments.
In May, the Supreme Court had used its extraordinary powers to free one of the seven convicts, AG Perarivalan. The same order applied to the rest, the court said on November 11. It noted that the Tamil Nadu cabinet had recommended to the Governor in 2018 that the convicts be freed, and the Governor was bound by that.
This morning, Nalini Sriharan, who was on parole already, visited a local police station to mark her mandatory attendance. After completing formalities at the special prison for women in Vellore, Nalini was released and went to the central prison from where her husband V Sriharan, alias Murugan, and Santhan were released.
Murugan and Santhan are both Sri Lankan nationals, and thus were taken in a police vehicle to a refugee camp in Tiruchirappalli in the state.
Released from the Puzhal prison, two other Lankan nationals — Robert Payas and Jayakumar — were also taken to the refugee camp to be lodged there. The convict set free in May, Perarivalan, and his mother Arputhammal received these two at the Puzhal prison.
It was not immediately clear if Nalini would stay in Chennai or join her daughter in London. “She will take a call on this,” her lawyer told news agency PTI. Asked about the fate of her husband Murugan, the lawyer said the state government would decide on deportation. Convict Santhan had already expressed his intent to return to Sri Lanka, he added.
While ordering their release, the Supreme Court had said the convicts had showed “satisfactory behaviour”, acquired degrees, written books, and had also participated in social service.
The Congress strongly objected to the Supreme Court order freeing Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins. It said the party did not agree with the views of Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka, who’ve been votaries of mercy to the convicts.
In the year 2000, Nalini Sriharan’s sentence was reduced to a life term. Later in the year 2014, the sentence of the other six convicts were also reduced, and the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalitha recommended their release.
Former PM Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group during a public rally. It was seen as retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987, only to withdraw them after losing more than 1,200 men in battle.