New Delhi: Rajiv Gandhi’s assassin Nalini Sriharan is back in news with her tell-all autobiography. In jail for more than 25 years now, the world’s longest serving woman prisoner has put together the 500-page book in Tamil that will be released on November 24. Nalini, who married LTTE operative Sriharan (Murugan) on April 21, 1991 after a brief courtship, was two months pregnant when arrested in connection with the May 21, 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
Housed in the special prison for women at Vellore in Tamil Nadu, Nalini is serving her life term along with six other accused.In her autobiography, she lays bare her childhood, her affair with Murugan, circumstances under which she became witness to the assassination, her five-day run as an outlaw, arrest, torture in custody, birth of her child in jail, conviction and jail life.
The climax is her 90-minute secret meeting with Priyanka Gandhi on March 19, 2008, which the world came to know through a TOI report on April 15, 2008. Not many know it was Mahatma Gandhi who named Nalini’s mother as Padmavathi, who was a nurse in a Chennai hospital when Sriharan, a Lankan Tamil, entered their lives while looking for a house on rent.
Sivarasan made his entry soon after, since he, too, hailed from the same area as that of Sriharan. Within days, Sivarasan brought Dhanu, who later acted as the human bomb, and Subha. After the assassination, Nalini would say: “I was surrounded by blood-thirsty wolves.” Maintaining that neither she nor her husband was aware of the assassination plan, Nalini says she told Priyanka that she was a prisoner of circumstances.
Priyanka kept asking why her father, “a good man,” was murdered. Priyanka was keen to know from her as to who were behind the assassination, but she could not ascertain much, as Nalini herself was not an LTTE operative. Born in Chennai, she had studied English literature and worked in a private company till Sriharan entered her life. Nalini says she is still in the dark about the real purpose of Priyanka’s visit, but says it could be part of India’s diplomacy to make Sri Lanka turn away from China’s overtures.
She says a day after the TOI report, then Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse’s brother Basil Rajapakse rushed to India, stayed in Delhi for three days and cemented ties between the two nations. Nalini’s narrative of her 50-day ordeal in the custody of special investigation team (SIT) probing Rajiv assassination and the travails of her daughter Arithra born in jail, are not for the weak-hearted. Disrobed, punched in the chest, asked to make love with her husband in front of others, threatened with gang-rape by policemen, chained and kept in a 5X5 room for weeks, Nalini says she went through every possible third-degree torture in custody.
Her pregnancy survived all this. To make her sign on confession statements, police took her to a lady doctor for abortion. Nalini says she still regards the doctor as a goddess since she not just declined to abort but also gave a dressing down to the police officers. Arithra, now a doctor in London, would wail without food in jail. Several jail officials gave her money and offered small help keeping the child in mind.
She was then sent to Coimbatore, later to Sri Lanka from where she went to Europe by illegal ferries along with her uncles and aunts. While India denied her even student visa, though she was born Indian, the UK government offered asylum and assistance, helping her all the way to become a doctor now. Her husband’s real name is Sriharan, though police started calling him Murugan for reasons not known to her, Nalini says, adding that Sriharan had fasted for a total of 365 days in jail demanding various rights, including food and medical care for their child, visa for the child, and a name change
Nalini says her life in jail was a little tolerable whenever Jayalalithaa was in power. The jail administration was a bit considerate during the AIADMK regime, she says. At several places in the autobiography, she says during the DMK government, the jail officials were harsh on her. In 2006, after the DMK returned to power, they threatened to ‘arrest’ her daughter if she was not immediately sent away to Sri Lanka, she says.
Nalini, when she was still a death row prisoner, wrote a letter to her daughter saying her last wish would be to spend a day with her and Sriharan. “I will cuddle you and say sorry to you for leaving you behind as an orphan in wilderness,” she says. Many top names sympathetically disposed towards Tamil Eelam cause have written their foreword to the book. They include ex-judge of Madras high court Justice D Hariparanthaman, MDMK leader Vaiko, VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan, film director-turned-politician Seeman, Kolathur Mani and lawyer-activist P Pugalenthi.