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Lady With The Poison Flowers

With Rajiv Gandhi's gruesome assassination, the suicide bomber had well and truly arrived
Anand Vikatan

Name: Dhanu
Act: Assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May '91

Dhanu was a member of the LTTE's suicide squad, Black Tigers. Very little is known about her, except that she was an extraordinarily motivated woman and carried out two dry runs during public meetings before targeting then PM Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally in Sriperumbudur.

She was part of a nine-member unit, with a back-up bomber, Subha. When the unit arrived in India, Dhanu brought herself thick glasses for disguise and mostly kept indoors to avoid arousing suspicion. The reason: she believed her unmistakable Jaffna accent would give her away. The night before she assassinated Gandhi, she watched a movie—and had an ice-cream before reaching the venue of her suicide bombing.

Forensic expert Dr P. Chandra Sekhar, who handled the case, says a woman sub-inspector of police tried to prevent Dhanu from reaching Rajiv Gandhi. "But Rajiv himself said to allow Dhanu in. He is supposed to have said something like, 'Relax, baby', to the woman sub-inspector," said Sekhar in an interview. Those were probably his last words.

When Dhanu bent to touch Rajiv Gandhi's feet in seeming reverence, she activated an RDX-based device embedded with approximately 10,000 steel pellets of 2 mm each held in a blue denim belt. Dhanu's father, Rajaratnam, had been associated with the separatist cause before LTTE was formed and died in 1975 in Madras of asthma. He was awarded a medal posthumously by LTTE supremo V. Prabhakaran at a public function in Jaffna.

Says M.R. Narayan Swamy, an LTTE-watcher and an author of two insightful books on the movement: "Although the LTTE took to suicide attacks in 1987, literally with a bang, the suicide culture was introduced into the group much earlier. Prabhakaran's decision to arm every member with a cyanide capsule was the first sign that LTTE cadres were willing to kill themselves to avoid capture. The first suicide attacker was a young man from Jaffna whose nom de guerre was Miller. He was asked to ram a truck packed with explosives into a school occupied by Sri Lankan troops." Subsequently, the LTTE killed scores of politicians (including prime minister Premadasa, defence minister Gamini Dissnayake) and military personnel through suicide bombing.

PEOPLE: Rajiv Gandhi
SECTION: International
SUBSECTION: Cover Stories
OUTLOOK: 29 August, 2005
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