‘TN govt never considered our loss’: May 1991 blast victims dejected by court verdict

S Abbas, who lost his mother S Samdhani Begum to the blast has this question: "Will I ever be able to meet my mom like Harithra Sriharan, daughter of Nalini?”
‘TN govt never considered our loss’: May 1991 blast victims dejected by court verdict
‘TN govt never considered our loss’: May 1991 blast victims dejected by court verdict
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The Supreme Court's decision to release the remaining six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has disheartened the kin of the victims and those suffered injuries in the May 1991 suicide bomb blast that killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The blast at an election rally held in Sriperumbudur near Chennai also took the lives of 14 others.TNM spoke with some of the victims who were gravely injured in the incident and the family members who lost their loved ones.

“It is unfortunate that the killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi are being released one by one by the Supreme Court. People of Tamil Nadu should protest against this decision,” says Anushya Daisy Ernest, a retired police officer who suffered injuries in the blast. Stating that she would protest against the verdict, Anushya wondered how people can “celebrate the release of terrorists”.

Murugan alias Sriharan, Nalini, AG Perarivalan, Santhan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, and P Ravichandran were convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case and were given death penalties, which were commuted to life imprisonment in later years. This year on May 18, a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and AS Bopanna invoked Article 142 and released Perarivalan. The SC decided to release the other convicts taking into account their conduct during the period of incarceration, the educational qualifications they gained during their imprisonment and the grounds which led to the release of Perarivalan.

"Will I ever be able to meet my mom like Harithra Sriharan?" asks S Abbas, who lost his mother S Samdhani Begum to the blast. Samdhani was a South Mahila Congress leader. "We were against the release of Perarivalan. But somewhat accepted it as he did not have much role in the assassination. We believed that others would never come out of prison. I cannot accept this verdict,” says Abbas, who feels that this will set a precedent for the release of those convicted of political assassinations after they serve a certain time in prison. “They will think they will be released after a decade or two,” says Abbas. When asked whether efforts have been taken by the Tamil Nadu government to ensure the welfare of victims' families he said, "The Chief Minister (MK Stalin) hugged a convict and even had a conversation with him. He never accepted our petition to see him. At least he should've met us. Isn't he our CM too?" Abbas asked.

K Ramalinga Jothi, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee General Secretary and coordinator of 'Forum for those who made the ultimate sacrifice on May 21,' says on various occasions in the past they had petitioned the Tamil Nadu Governor and the President of India against releasing the convicts involved in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. "We are exhausted. The family members of people killed in the blast have been ignored,” he says. Ramalinga Jothi says many victims are police officers and their families suffered many hardships after they lost their loved ones.

“Chandra, a police official, was killed in the bomb blast. Her daughter was only 9 years old then. She suffered a lot after her mother's death. A few years ago, Chandra's daughter also passed away. But, the killer Nalini's daughter, Haritha Sriharan lives in London. This SC order is a complete disappointment," he says.

Chandra’s son Murali says that no one listened to their stories. “The government never considered our loss. They could’ve done things differently and could’ve provided us with at least a job guarantee. But nothing happened. We did not have closure and won’t accept this verdict,’ says Murali.

John Joseph, who lost his elder brother Edward Joseph in the blast says that they knew one day or another, all these convicts will be released. Edward was a Special Branch CID inspector and was part of Rajiv Gandhi’s security detail during his visit to Sriperumbudur. “My brother’s death is the biggest loss to his family. I cannot forget the day when I went to identify him after the attack. He left two young daughters and they could complete school because of funds from the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation,” he says. John Joseph, however, feels that one cannot be released from the court of God. “They have to pay for this at his court,” says John Joseph, full of bitterness.

The release of the convicts drew strong condemnation and criticism across the country. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Rajya Sabha member and senior Congress politician told media persons in Delhi that the decision by the Supreme Court to release the assassins of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is highly discouraging. Earlier, Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament, and General Secretary in charge of communications for the Indian National Congress (INC) said that the decision by the SC is totally unacceptable, erroneous, and wholly untenable.

A section of political leaders in Tamil Nadu welcomed this move. Chief Minister MK Stalin said the release of six convicts is a victory for those who fight for human rights. Hailing the SC verdict, he said, “The decision to release the six convicts is a historical move and in line with the spirit of democracy. This judgment is also proof that decisions to be taken by the elected government should not be left to those in appointed positions, like the Governor.”

Thol Thirumavalanvan, founder of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) asked the government to help the four Sri Lankan nationals, who were released along with Indian citizens Nalini and Ravichandran, to live in Tamil Nadu. "The Union government should help the convicts to go abroad or to Sri Lanka if they are willing to go," he said, adding that some of the accused in this case were permitted to migrate to Europe.

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