The memorial at Sriperumbudur, 40 km from Chennai, where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated
The families of 14 people who died in the suicide attack that killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 have objected to the Tamil Nadu cabinet’s recommendation to release seven life convicts who have served 27 years in jail.
At Chennai’s Padi, 35-year-old S Abbas fights back tears whenever he speaks about his mother, who died in the blast triggered by an LTTE suicide bomber. Mr Abbas was only eight then and had already lost his father.
Orphaned after the former prime minister’s assassination, he dropped out after Class 10 as there was nobody to look after him.
“My mother was brought as a bundle of body parts. Imagine my pain. I cried everyday for a long time,” Mr Abbas said.
He said the government’s claim that public sentiment favours release of the convicts may not be entirely accurate. “Our lives are ruined. No one has come to console us. Let them spend one day with these families and decide later,” said Mr Abbas, who runs a watch shop.
At Sriperumbudur, 40 km from Chennai, where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, Shanthakumari recalls of horrific memories of the 1991 incident. Her eyes well up talking about her sister, Sarojadevi, who died in the blast.
Shanthakumari was herself injured; tiny pellets from the blast that are difficult to be safely removed are still lodged in her skin. “It took 10 years for me to recover from the tragedy. They were evil forces who dug our grave standing among us,” Shanthakumari said.
At the memorial of the assassination in Sriperumbudur, Ramalinga Jothi, a Congress poet, turns hysterical. He said he has over the years brought together all the affected families under one umbrella for solidarity. “What an injustice. Killers are listened to and those killed are taken for granted,” Mr Jothi said.
Human rights defenders say the convicts have spent 27 years in jail and they deserve a second chance.
While still inside, one of the convicts, Nalini Sriharan, has earned a Masters degree. The other convicts are performing new roles — Perarivalan turned into an author, and Murugan and Santham are temple priests in the jail.
Henri Tiphagen, executive director of rights group People’s Watch, says judicial custody is not only a punishment but it’s also for reformation. “They have spent half their life in jail. They could become good models of reformation. Let not our politics ruin their chances,” Mr Tiphagen said.
State government sources say the governor can ask for clarifications and take his time to decide on releasing the convicts, but is generally bound to accept the recommendation.