Nalini Sriharan and other convicts in the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case finally walked out of the Tamil Nadu prisons on Saturday evening after about three decades of incarceration.
Nalini, wife of V Sriharan alias Murugan, who was the first to be released, claimed her firm belief that she is innocent had kept her alive all these years. “Otherwise, I would have ended my life. Do you think I have murdered the former Prime Minister? Seventeen murder cases have been framed against me,” the 55-year-old Nalini said in her first reaction to the media after she stepped out of the special prison for women in Vellore, about 150 kilometres from here.
Her husband Murugan — a Sri Lankan national — along with another convict Santhan, also from Sri Lanka, were released from the Vellore prison. Besides them, two other Sri Lankan nationals — Robert Payas and Jayakumar — were released from the Puzhal prison here. All the four were taken to the special refugee camp in Tiruchirappalli to be lodged there.
Earlier, another convict who was set free in May, A G Perarivalan, along with his mother Arputhammal received the duo at Puzhal prison.
The sixth convict P Ravichandran, on parole in the coastal Thoothukudi district, was brought to Madurai prison where he completed the formalities and was released.
Immediately after her release from prison, Nalini went to the Vellore central prison and became emotional upon seeing Murugan.
The Supreme Court on Friday set free Nalini Sriharan and five other remaining convicts, who are serving life term for about three decades in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, noting that its earlier order releasing another convict A G Perarivalan was equally applicable to them.
Earlier in the day, with relief writ large on her face, Nalini, on parole for a month, was escorted by the police to sign at the Katpadi police station. Later in the afternoon, she was taken to the Vellore prison to complete the formalities related to her release.
Similarly, the Supreme Court’s order copies were sent to the Puzhal and Madurai central prisons where the remaining persons have been lodged.
When asked about the fate of her husband, Nalini’s advocate P Pugazhendi said that the state government would decide. “Santhan had already expressed his intent to return to Sri Lanka. Initially, they may be lodged at the Sri Lankan refugee camp,” he told PTI.
“It was a hellish experience in prison during these 32 years. My conviction that I am innocent has kept me alive all these years. Of course, regular yoga, medication and classes from IGNOU had kept me occupied in the prison,” she told reporters in Vellore.
Has she learnt a lesson from her prison life? “It is a unique experience which nobody could learn. I learnt patience and forbearance,” she said.
Asked if she regretted her delayed release, Nalini replied: “Many policemen were killed and some injured. I don’t know if they had received compensation.” She expressed her resolve to join her daughter in London and be a homemaker taking care of her husband and her daughter. She exuded the hope that her husband too would join her soon.
She thanked the Central and state governments, and all those who had supported her release. “I am delighted and grateful that so many kind-hearted souls supported my release from prison,” Nalini said and claimed that she did not have money even to pay her counsel, who unwaveringly argued her case in the court.
She was the longest-serving woman prisoner in the country and was arrested in 1991 when she was 24-years-old. She was a stenographer at a private firm when she met Murugan, a member of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a woman suicide bomber named Dhanu at a poll rally in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on the night of May 21, 1991.