On Monday, 29 March 2010, the Tamil Nadu government rejected a plea by Nalini ‘Sriharan’ Murugan for an early release from jail. Nalini is an accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and is serving a life term at a special women’s prison in Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
Nalini, 44, was closely associated with and harboured the ‘prime accused’ and 18 others in the plot to assassinate former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. She even shopped for clothes the suicide bomber ‘Dhanu’ wore on that fateful day. She was one of 26 people sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 1998, seven years after the assassination. She was the only member of the assassination team who walked out of the blast site, and it meant that she faced the largest number of charges. In fact, the blast also killed 18 other people besides the former PM. Nalini is married to Sri Lankan Tamil and LTTE member Sriharan Murugan, who was sentenced to death for his involvement in the assassination plot.
Nalini was four months pregnant when she was imprisoned. She later gave birth to a daughter, who remained with her for a few years. The child was later handed over to her paternal grandmother, who took her to Sri Lanka and then reportedly to London. Indian security agencies have never been able to clearly pinpoint the whereabouts of Nalini’s now 18-year-old offspring.
In 2000, the Tamil Nadu government allowed a ‘clemency petition’ from Sonia Gandhi and converted Nalini’s death sentence to life imprisonment. Earlier, a plea from Nalini for ‘early release’ under a general amnesty scheme was rejected. The most recent appeal came after Rajiv’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited Nalini in prison. The appeal was considered after Nalini went on a hunger strike.
Nalini, a diploma holder, has also used her jailtime to improve her skills. Last year, she successfully passed her exams for a Master of Computer Applications degree. She was the first prisoner in Tamil Nadu to earn that distinction, and in fact outranked inmate students from all Tamil Nadu prisons appearing for the same exam. She was awarded the degree by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) this year. At the time Nalini said she hoped a degree would help her if she were ever freed. That possibility seems more unlikely now than ever before.