The others who died with Rajiv Gandhi: Families talk of struggle, neglect

Congress president Sonia gandhi, Vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka vadra and Robert Vadra after the ceremony of remembrance to mark the 25th martydom anniversary to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. (Express photo by Renuka Puri)

Twenty-five years ago, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991, 15 others were killed with him. The Sunday Express traced some of their families, whose lives changed forever on that day.

Most of them were reluctant to talk. Many complained of indifference and neglect, with some saying they had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi a few times but received no help.

Victim: Dharman, police constable
His son Rajasekharan, 38, is a taxi driver
My father was a Special Branch head constable in Kancheepuram. We were enjoying our summer vacation at a relative’s house in Red Hills near Chennai, when a policeman arrived at our doorstep with the news that ‘Appa’ had been killed in the blast. I was in Class VIII, my sister was just 10 years old and my brother was five.

Our Amma (Vedavalli, now 60) had a government job, so we managed to complete our studies. But if my father had been alive, we would have been in better positions. His death changed our lives, there was nobody to mentor us, we were on our own. A few years later, I met Sonia and Rahul Gandhi at their Delhi residence. But what can we really expect from them?

Victim: Santhani Begum, Mahila Congress leader
Her son Abbas, 30, sells cellphone accessories
I was in Class II when I lost my mother — she was the South Chennai Mahila Congress president. I lost my father when I was barely three years old. We were seven children, five brothers and two sisters. I remember my brother trying to deter my mother from attending the rally as we were alone at home. But she had to go as it was our leader, Rajiv Gandhi.

After her death, we struggled in so many ways. While a few influential victims and families of policemen got compensatory jobs, LPG distribution centres and so on, we were ignored. I met Rajiv Gandhi’s family in Delhi, and sent them several letters seeking help. But I think the people in their office did not forward my letters. Congress leaders come to us to demand our support whenever there is a move to release the convicts in the case, but don’t bother about us at other times.

Victim: Munusamy, ex-member of Tamil Nadu Legislative Council
His son, League Mohan, is a functionary of G K Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress
My father, who was a member of the legislative council during MGR’s time, was 64 years old when he died. A family friend, who worked as a telephone operator, informed us about the blast. It was then Congress leader G K Moopanar who identified my father’s body.

We were five children. Amma is now 83 years old. I was with the Congress party and joined Moopanar when he floated the TMC. As Appa had worked with former President R Venkataraman, he helped us get an LPG distribution licence. Nobody recognises our sacrifice. I met the Gandhi family, but they did not recognise us and denied us an MLA seat.

Victim: Rajguru, Police Inspector, Pallavaram
His son, Praveen Rajesh, is a police inspector in Anna Nagar, Chennai
We heard on the radio that Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated. In the next few hours, we heard the news of Appa’s death. I was 15 years old. He was a popular police officer and had wiped out several goondas in the city’s suburbs… There were reports that MGR had visited him at the police station.

Until his age of retirement, we received his full salary. Then I got a job too. My mother, Balasaraswati, is 63 years old now and my elder sister is married.

Victim: Chandra, constable
Husband K Mani is a retired government employee. Their daughter is 27 years old now.

Our daughter Hemavathi was two years old when Chandra died. I was working at a warehouse in Kancheepuram. That night, she was sent as part of Rajiv Gandhi’s security team, I was alone with our daughter at home. A constable came home late at night with the news of the blast. I ran outside, carrying my daughter, but we were not able to reach anywhere near Sriperumbudur that night. I later identified her body at the Kancheepuram hospital.

I left my temporary job as I was given a government job in 1995. Hemavathi has now completed her BSc degree. I had to struggle to take care of her. I also struggled a lot financially, often having to beg others for help. My only income is my pension now, Rs 6,000 per month. I can’t even think of my daughter’s wedding as she has not been able to find a job yet. There were many promises which were not kept, we met the Gandhi family too.

Victim: Edward Joseph, Police Inspector
His brother, John Joseph, who retired from the state secretariat, filed a separate review petition in the Supreme Court against the release of the convicts.

Edward was 39 years old when he was killed, I was three years younger. I was at my house in Chennai when a police constable came to tell me that he had an “accident”. Till I reached the hospital mortuary, I did not know that he had died.

The blast left his wife, who was a teacher, and two daughters, five and seven years old, alone. His wife struggled to raise the children. The elder daughter is now a doctor at the Chennai Port Trust hospital. Edward was with the Special Branch CID wing. He was also the personal security officer of former Chief Minister MGR.

Victim: K S Mohammed Iqbal, SP, Kancheepuram
His son, Javed Iqbal, is an LPG distributor

I was 17 years old when I lost my father. Just two weeks before he died, he had bought me a new motorcycle. On the day of the blast, at about 5:40 pm, I was enjoying a bike ride with my friends when my father spotted me. He stopped his car and asked me to go home early as my mother was alone.

Then around midnight, a constable came home to inform us about the blast. I rushed to the site, it was empty by then. I went to the nearby government hospital. As soon as I stepped inside, I saw my father’s body. He was hit below the waist, but had no visible wound on his face. My elder sister was married by then. I later left my studies. The then governor facilitated a seat for me at Anna University, but I could not focus on my studies. G K Moopanar visited us and got us a licence for an LPG distribution agency.

Even after 25 years, my mother still weeps at his memory. Just recently, Rahul Gandhi came to Chennai and visited a place near my home, but he did not visit us. I was of the same age as Rahul when we lost our fathers.

Victims: Latha Kannan, Mahila Congress worker, daughter Kokilavani, who recited a poem in praise of Rajiv Gandhi on the stage just before the blast.
Her husband abandoned their then seven-year-old son after her death. The son was a murder accused till recently.

Latha and her 10-year-old daughter were in the queue to garland Rajiv Gandhi minutes before the assassination. Latha’s husband, then a Class IV employee, later abandoned their son, who was raised by his grandmother.

“About three years ago, I visited him (Latha’s son) at the Vellore central prison, where he was lodged as a murder accused. I visited him with two other families of blast victims when we came to know about his arrest. I have forgotten his name. He was shattered. He told us his mother’s death had ruined his life. After his father abandoned him, he lived with his grandmother but failed to complete his studies,” said Abbas, the son of another blast victim, Santhani Begum.