S. Nalini Sriharan is one of the convicts in the assassination of India’s former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. She was a part of the five-member suicide squad and was the only one to have survived the blast that killed Rajiv Gandhi. At present, she is serving her sentence of life imprisonment in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore Central Prison. She has been in jail for nearly three decades, making Nalini the longest-serving Indian woman prisoner.
Nalini was born in 1967 (age 53 years; as in 2020) in Ambalavanapuram in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. She graduated in the English-language literature from Ethiraj College in Chennai, and then, she worked for a private company in Chennai. She was arrested for her alleged role in Rajiv Gandhi‘s assassination on 14 June 1991. While being lodged in prison, she successfully attained an MCA (Master of Computer Applications) degree from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 2009, and a diploma in Tailoring.
Height (approx.): 5′ 4″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Family and Caste
Nalini comes from a Malayalam family.
Parents & Siblings
Her father, P Sankara Narayanan, was a police inspector who died at the age of 92 in 2016.
Her mother, Padmavathi Ammal, worked as a nurse at a hospital in Chennai. It is not known by many that it was Mahatma Gandhi, who named her mother as “Padmavathi.”
Nalini is the eldest of the three children of her parents. She has a sister, Kalyani, and a brother, P. S. Bhagyanathan. Police had also arrested her mother and brother in 1991 for allegedly playing a role in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, but the Supreme Court acquitted them in 1998.
Relationship & Children
Nalini is married to a Sri Lankan citizen, V Sriharan aka Murugan, another convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
Nalini was two months pregnant when she was arrested by police and put in prison. On 21 January 1992, Nalini gave birth to a daughter who was earlier named as Megara. Later she was renamed as Harithra Sriharan. Harithra stayed in jail with her mother until the age of 6 years.
After that, Harithra’s paternal grandmother took her to Sri Lanka, and later to London, where she works as a medical practitioner.
Nalini’s Role in Rajiv Gandhi Assassination
Nalini was the only one of the five-member assassin squad to have survived the blast that claimed the life of Rajiv Gandhi. On 21 May 1991, Nalini went along with the assassin’s team, including the key conspirator, Sivarasan, to attend Rajiv Gandhi’s political rally at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.
Pictures clicked in the camera by a local photographer, S Haribabu (who too died in the blast), helped in exposing Nalini’s relation with the conspirators of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
Special Investigation Team’s investigations found Nalini to have provided shelter to the operatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who executed the assassination. They stayed with her and her husband while the plan was laid out.
Arrest & Sentence
After staying on a run for several days, on 14 June 1991, Nalini and her husband Murugan were arrested from the Saidapet bus stand in Chennai (Madras). She was found guilty of offences charged against her under Section 120B (for being party to Rajiv Gandhi assassination conspiracy) read with IPC Section 302 (murder). Consequently, the TADA Court pronounced a death sentence to her and 25 other convicts for their role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Several human rights groups protested against the court’s secretive trial behind closed doors. Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, also filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India, seeking clemency for Nalini, as she did not want Nalini’s daughter to be orphaned. As a result, on 24 April 2000, the Supreme Court of India commuted Nalini’s death sentence to life imprisonment.
Autobiography of S. Nalini Sriharan
Nalini released a 500 pages autobiography in 2016, titled – Rajiv Kolai: Maraikkappatta Unmaigalum, Priyanka Nalini Santhipum (English Title – The Rajiv Assassination: The Hidden Truths And The Meeting Between Priyanka And Nalini), wherein she has attempted to tell her side of the story. In a book of 500 pages written in Malayalam, she has narrated about her childhood, her affair with Murugan, and has unfolded about the circumstances under which she became involved in the conspiracy of assassination, her five-day run as a fugitive, arrest, torture in custody, birth of her child in jail, conviction and jail life, and her meeting with Priyanka Gandhi in 2008.
- Nalini was a brilliant student. She scored 87 percent in her post-graduation exams and was as a topper among all the prisoners across Tamil Nadu.
- Serving life imprisonment, Nalini has only been granted parole three times. The first was emergency parole for a few hours in 2004 at the time of her brother’s marriage, the second was also emergency parole in 2016 when her father died, and the third and the longest (for 51 days) was ordinary parole in July 2019 when her daughter got married.
- Nalini could not see her daughter for two years after she was born, as the authorities did not grant permission.
- She regrets the killing of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi but also alleges that the real perpetrators who planned the conspiracy are still off the leash.