Nalini Sriharan and her husband Murugan, convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, have gone on an indefinite hunger strike in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore central prison demanding an early release for them as well as the five other convicts, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday.
Sriharan’s lawyer P Pugazhendi said they decided to go on a strike because Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit has not yet responded to the state Cabinet’s September resolution recommending the release of the seven convicts. The other convicts are T Suthendraraja alias Santhan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, Ravichandran and AG Perarivalan.
On September 9, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet recommended the convicts’ release. It came three days after the Supreme Court told Purohit to consider Perarivalan’s mercy petition. In August, the Centre had told the top court that it was against the state government’s petition to release the convicts and said it would set a “dangerous precedent” and have “international ramifications”. In June, President Ram Nath Kovind had rejected the state government’s request to release the prisoners. Two months later, Perarivalan, 47, wrote to the top court saying no decision had been made on his mercy petition to the governor filed in December 2015.
“While Nalini started her protest inside the special prison for women in Vellore on Saturday, her husband Murugan launched his hunger strike protest on February 2,” Pugazhendhi said. “Even though all the seven convicts have spent most of their lives in prison, it is not fathomable why the governor is delaying the signing of papers enabling their release in spite of the TN cabinet resolution recommending the same.”
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, when an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam named Gayatri set off an RDX-laden belt she wore under her belt. The LTTE was seeking revenge for the Indian government’s decision to send troops to Sri Lanka to help the island-country fight the Tamil separatists.
In 1998, 26 people were sentenced to death for the conspiracy, but a year later the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of only four of them – Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. Three others were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining 19 were freed. In 2000, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In 2014, the top court commuted the death sentences of the other three as well saying the Centre cannot unduly delay examining their mercy petitions.