Chennai: From 12.30 pm on Friday, R. P. Ravichandran, one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, was glued to the television at his home in a village in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu waiting for the Supreme Court to pronounce its verdict.
Relief finally came after serving a life sentence for over three decades when the apex court ordered his immediate release along with five others, after hearing two petitions and four applications filed by them. Murugan alias Sriharan, Nalini, Santhan, Jayakumar and Robert Pais are the other convicts.
Ravichandran’s phone has not stopped ringing ever since the verdict was delivered and congratulatory messages have been pouring in. “My mother is very happy. Just like we suffered the punishment for over three decades, she too felt the punishment that society meted out to her,” he told ThePrint over phone. “She is extremely happy.”
“I first saw a flash news that the hearing in the case has begun,” Ravichandran said. Soon enough, every channel that he switched to, began flashing the word: Viduthalai (freedom). “My mother and I stood staring at the TV,” he said. There were no tears or hugs, just a “sigh of relief.” “I felt magizhchi (happy) and more than anything else relief,” Ravichandran said.
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Legal reasoning established
On May 18, the Supreme Court had suspended the life sentence and ordered the release of another convict in the case, A.G. Perarivalan.
On Friday, the top court held that the legal reasoning for releasing a convict in the case was already established when Perarivalan was released, and that the same arguments would apply to the other convicts. The bench noted that the convicts all displayed good conduct in prison. “We have no reason to keep you in jail any longer,” it observed.
Since December 27, 2021, Ravichandran and Nalini have been on parole as sanctioned under the Tamil Nadu Suspension of Sentence Rules,1982. While Nalini served her sentence in a special prison for women in Vellore for more than 30 years, Ravichandran was lodged in the Central Prison, Madurai.
Ravichandran said that though he has been out on parole, it was “pretty much like house arrest” for the past 12 months. “There is definitely a difference between being in prison and being at home. Though I am under police protection at home, it is nice to have my mother, younger brother and his children around.”
In Vellore, Nalini’s mother Padmini, who answered her phone, told ThePrint that police have strictly told them not to discuss the case till the six convicts are formally released. “All I can say is that we have found medicine for our wounds in Delhi. Kindly call us tomorrow after 2 pm, we will speak to you in detail,” she said.
Earlier in the day, talking to a prominent Tamil news channel, Nalini said she wept a lot soon after she heard the news. “I am extremely happy and at peace. Even now after 32 years, Tamil people did not forget us. They supported us, kept us alive. I would like to thank them all,” she added.
Stating that she was separated from her daughter, Harithra, for the past 30 years, Nalini, in a quivering voice, said the next plan was to go meet her daughter who lived in London. “What else is there in life? After I go speak to my husband in prison, we will decide to travel,” she said.
Huge relief for all
Advocate P. Pugalenthi, who represented Nalini since 2005 and her husband Murugan from 2010, said he had a brief conversation with Nalini around 3.20 pm on Friday. “It was a short conversation and we both expressed our happiness over the verdict,” he told ThePrint. “For the suffering they endured for 32 years, this is a huge relief.”
“Initially, I was only Nalini’s lawyer, then I was in touch with all of them to provide legal services,” he said. Apart from Nalini and Ravichandran, the remaining four are all Sri Lankan nationals, he added.
“If they are headed to Sri Lanka, they will be sent there or to different countries after receiving the permits and visas,” he said. “Santhan is willing to go to Sri Lanka. As for the rest, Murugan might go to London to meet his brother, sister and daughter who live there. Robert Pais will likely go to the Netherlands where his wife lives. As for Jayakumar, his wife and children have lived in Chennai’s Vyasarpadi for a long time.”
“The Supreme Court judgement may get communicated by tonight to jail authorities and for those on parole, they may have to go back to the prison to complete formalities. As for the rest, it will be based on what the Tamil Nadu government decides as the next step,” Pugalenthi added.
Meanwhile, Ravichandran said that his daily routine was confined within the compound of the house. “I can stay within the compound, tend to the garden, watch the news and read books.”
After his release, Ravichandran said he would mostly look after the agricultural land that belongs to his family. “For 31 years, I have been in an extremely difficult prison sentence and have only now been released. Time has brought a lot of change to the outside world and I want to take some time to understand these changes. I think it is important I reflect on it first, and get used to this new situation,” he said. “I need time to fully understand what is happening around me.”
(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)
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