The case of India’s longest-serving woman prisoner getting a 30-day parole after 28 years in jail might just be the catalyst for a relook at laws on capital punishment and life terms in jail. Sri Lankan national Nalini Sriharan was awarded the death sentence for the heinous crime of being part of the conspiracy to murder former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. A terror conspirator may not deserve any sympathy, although the stricken Gandhi-Nehru family forgave her and her sentence was later commuted to life in jail till death. The point her case raises is whether her continued detention serves any purpose, like reformatory aims, and her posing any threat after spending the best part of her adult life in prison. Should not clemency apply to her?
Nalini was granted leave from jail for a few hours on occasion, such as her father’s last rites. The jail manual prescribing parole regulations was generally ignored on her pleas, except this time, when she sought leave to arrange her born-in-jail daughter’s wedding. The release of all seven Rajiv Gandhi (1991) case convicts was the subject of a Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution backed by parties across the spectrum last year, but the governor put the issue on ice on the grounds that he was seeking legal advice on freeing the seven accused of conspiring to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. Besides ensuring justice has been done in this case, the State should have no interest in extracting revenge, however dastardly the LTTE’s act was in killing an Indian PM. Is it possible to move on in this matter — that is the query that Nalini’s plight raises.