Nalini Sriharan, serving a life term in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, threatened to kill herself in prison last night after being accused of harassing another convict, a top Tamil Nadu official said on Tuesday.
"It was more like blackmail or a threat. She did not attempt suicide," Sunil Kumar Singh, the chief of the Tamil Nadu Prisons Department, told NDTV.
The incident took place at the Vellore Women's prison, where Nalini, 55, has been jailed for nearly three decades.
"Nalini threatened to kill herself when the jail was inquiring into a harassment complaint. Another life convict has alleged that Nalini harasses her and wants to be shifted to a different cell. Nalini threatened to commit suicide if the woman was shifted," Mr Singh said.
But Nalini's lawyer P Pugalenthi was quoted by news agency ANI as saying that she tried to kill herself after a fight with a jail official.
The lawyer, alleging torture by jail officials, appealed to the Tamil Nadu government to arrange Nalini's transfer to another prison.
The lawyer said he was told that the fight started over a complaint by another convict against Nalini, a version that he doubted. "At 8:30 pm, the jailer went to Nalini's cell and enquired about the complaint. During the inquiry, a quarrel took place between the jailer and Nalini. She got upset and attempted to commit suicide," Mr Pugalenthi told ANI.
"This is the view of the authorities. However, we don't believe this. She has served the last 30 years in prison and never attempted to take such steps. This is not believable. I think the jail officials had tortured her," he said, calling for an inquiry.
Claiming that Nalini's life is in danger, the lawyer said he had requested jail authorities and Chief Minister E Palanisamy to the transfer her to a prison in Chennai.
Nalini was sentenced to death for her role in the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during an election rally in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. The sentence was reduced to life term on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's wife Sonia Gandhi. Years later, the Supreme Court commuted the sentence of six more convicts in the case.
Last year, Nalini was granted parole for a month for her daughter Harithra's wedding. Her daughter studies medicine in the UK.
Recently, Nalini had requested a court to allow her to make WhatsApp calls to her family in the UK and Sri Lanka. But jail officials told the court that overseas calls are not allowed for convicts and only the centre can decide.