Convicted for the 1991 assassination of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Nalini Sriharan and five others were released by the Supreme Court after 31 years behind bars for displaying “satisfactory behaviour” during their jail term. Approaching the top court seeking early release, Nalini had cited the case of fellow convict AG Perarivalan, who was granted an early release by the top court in May.
Under Article 142 of the Indian constitution, the SC can exercise special powers to ensure “complete justice” in a case. Perarivalan was released under this special clause. “It was observed that the convicts had educated themselves, acquired degrees, written several books and were actively involved in social service that showed that they were on the right path,” said their lawyer.
The court noted that the Tamil Nadu cabinet had recommended the release of these convicts to the governor in 2018. The two justices, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, stated that the SC’s decision in Perarivalan’s case also applied to this situation.
Here is all you need to know about the six convicts released by the Supreme Court in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case:
Nalini Sriharan: The eldest of three siblings, Nalini was the daughter of a police inspector and nurse. She obtained a degree in English language and literature from Chennai’s Ethiraj College. Of those convicted in the case, Nalini was the only one present at Sriperumbudur where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. She was also the only survivor of the five-member suicide squad, making her the number 1 accused in the case. She was working as a stenographer at a private firm when she was introduced to Sriharan alias Murugan through a common friend called Sankari, whose brother Muthuraja was actively involved with the LTTE.
Nalini’s brother Bhagyanathan was also introduced to Murugan through Sankari and Nalini. Soon, Nalini became close to Murugan and his other associates, who later planned the attack on Gandhi, police had said. Photographs from the camera of a local photographer, S Hari Babu, who was killed in the explosion showed Nalini with the other bomber suspects, thus, proving her direct involvement. After the blast, Nalini and Murugan escaped from Chennai and managed to evade arrest for over a month. When they were finally captured, Nalini was pregnant and a daughter was born. She was with Nalini in jail till the age of five following which she was later moved to the home of another prisoner, where she received her schooling and education.
Sriharan alias Murugan: The man who was the direct contact between the assassination squad and Nalini, Murugan was an LTTE operator. According to Nalini, he was one of the many Sri Lankan Tamils who fled from the island nation and found refuge in Chennai. He was planning to go abroad when he met Nalini’s brother Bhagyanathan and even stayed at their house for a brief time. Nalini first met Sivarasan, the mastermind behind Gandhi’s assassination, through Murugan.
The assassination squad comprised five core members, including Sivarasan, Subha, Arivu, Murugan and Dhanu. It was Dhanu who finally wore the bomb-laden vest that killed Gandhi. Nalini, Bhagyanathan and Padma were marked as “locals” to be used for logistics and not given the complete picture of the planned attack, according to those who have written extensively on the subject. While the investigators closed in on arresting Sivarasan, Subha and Arivu, Sivarasan shot himself dead while the others consumed cyanide.
Suthenthiraraja @ Santhan: A Sri Lankan citizen and Sivarasan’s aide, Santhan like Murugan fled war-torn Sri Lanka on a boat in 1991. They landed near Chennai and lived in a refugee camp. The investigating officers found him to be directly involved in the planning and execution of Gandhi’s assassination. Along with Nalini, Murugan and Perarivalan, the SC initially sentenced him to death before their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
Robert Payas: A Sri Lankan national, Payas’s family fled the island nation. Payas had said in court that his family had faced atrocities at the hands of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. With direct links to the LTTE, Payas arrived in India a few months before Sivarasan and Murugan in 1990 along with his family. He was a close associate of Sivarasan and had an active role in the conspiracy.
Jayakumar: He too fled Sri Lanka from the IPKF along with Payas. He is the brother-in-law of Payas and was found to have links with Sivarasan and part of the core team that planned the Sriperumbudur bomb attack.
RP Ravichandran: Though an Indian national, Ravichandran was found to have close links with the LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran. While the charges against Ravichandran were of having links with the Tamil Eelam movement and visiting Sri Lanka several times in the mid-1980s by sea, the courts struck down the conspiracy charges against him in 1999 as they could not find enough evidence against him.
AG Perarivalan: Perarivalan was granted an early release in May. An Indian national, he was accused of having supplied two nine-volt batteries to Sivarasan. Aged 19 at the time of the attack, he has repeatedly claimed innocence and said he did not know what the batteries were going to be used for. He was also on death row until the sentence was commuted to life term. In 2013, it emerged that the confession that led to Perarivalan’s conviction was false. V Thiagarajan, a superintendent of police with the CBI, said he had altered Perarivalan’s statement to make it sound like a confession. This was submitted as an affidavit to the SC leading to his release in May. The terrorism charges were also withdrawn under the lapsed TADA Act.
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