Jessica Lal murder case is a very high-profile murder case. This case has always made me wonder how cruel one can be who out of nowhere shot an innocent girl who simply refused to serve him a drink of his choice. It made us believe that justice still prevails despite the fact of who the accused is. It made us accept the fact that justice can be delayed but, in the end, it will be served. Media played a powerful role in this case. Jessica’s case was the beginning of an unbiased media that led a national campaign for justice.
We all know that a coin has two sides, in a similar manner media has two sides. Media at times exaggerate things and today media is all about TRP and how to gain maximum profit by selling news added with some spices. But in this high-profile murder case, it proved itself as a boon and made us believe in ourselves and our judiciary system. Throwback to those days when we adored media which helped us to bring back our faith in our system.
OUTLINE OF JESSICA LAL’S MURDER CASE
April 29th,1999; the date when the incident took place. There was a party going on organized by Miss Bina Ramani, a resident of Delhi at Tamarind Court restaurant in Mehrauli, Delhi. With an estimated guest list of 300 people. Jessica was hired as a model bar-maid at the party. She was doing her duty along with one of her friends, Shayan Munshi.
Out of those 300 people, one was Manu Sharma, son of a politician who with his friends was also present at the party. They wanted to have drinks and for the same, they reached the bar counter where they saw Jessica and asked her to serve him a drink. But by that time bar was closed and she refused to provide them a drink. Manu wanted his drinks so badly that he offered Jessica 1000 bucks which she refused. On not getting his drink, Manu got agitated which made him take out his gun and pointed right in front of her.
Like the worst nightmare, he shot his first bullet at the ceiling to threaten her and the second bullet with a point-blank range right in her head in front of her fellow bartender. A woman was shot dead because she refused this arrogant VVIP brat a glass of alcohol. Manu and his friends left the scene as soon as possible. Everyone panicked. Most of them saw the accused running away. Jessica was immediately rushed to the hospital. Jessica’s sister was informed about the incident. She couldn’t believe what happened to her sister. Both the sisters shared a very close bond. After few hours Jessica was pronounced dead.
There were around 300 people at the party but unfortunately, none of them came forward to be a witness. Many identified Manu Sharma as the culprit but no one was willing to come forward and be a witness. Fortunately, a few people came forward and wanted to be the witness to the case. Manu Sharma was taken under police custody. During the police investigation, Manu initially confessed his murder but it was later dismissed due to procedural technicality. One by one every witness was turning hostile. Some were bribed and the others were threatened for life. Sabrina, Jessica’s sister wanted justice for her sister, and for that, she kept on fighting with this system.
On Aug 3rd,1999, a charge sheet was filed against the accused. On November 23rd, 2000, the Sessions Judge of Delhi Trial Court found him guilty. Charges were framed against Manu Sharma under Sections 302, 201 r/w120-B IPC, and one of his friends Vikas Yadav was charged under Section 120 r/w 201 IPC and section 201 r/w section 34 of IPC. As all the witnesses turned hostile, Delhi police could not present a proper justified case so the accused were released. On Feb 21, 2006; Delhi High Court acquitted all nine due to lack of evidence. This led to a massive wave of disappointment amongst the people. Our brave and lionhearted media was quite aware of the ongoing situation and they were determined to bring justice to this innocent girl.
Courageous magazines like Tehelka came forward and grasped this opportunity to expose the loopholes of the system. A Sting operation was made by the media where many witnesses were exposed and evidence was collected. Shayan Munshi who turned hostile was even recorded by our media and the footage was all over the news channel. He spilled every single thing about that brutal night and how the accused killed an innocent girl for not serving him a drink. In the court proceedings, he notified the honorable Court that he can’t speak the Hindi language and also that he didn’t know who shot the bullet. But the sting operation revealed otherwise. The sting operation, message campaigns helped a lot in this case.
On March 13, 2006; following intense media and public pressure an appeal was filed in Delhi High Court and the proceedings started on a fast track basis with daily hearings over 25 days.
HIGH COURT JUDGEMENT
The High Court had different judgments as compared to Trial Court. The Court held Manu Sharma guilty of the murder of Jessica Lal. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50000/- and a prison term of 4 years was sentenced to the co-convicts along with a fine of Rs 3000/-. This case was not only limited to the accused and victim but every individual was involved. Sabrina, Jessica’s sister didn’t lose hope because she had faith in our judiciary system.
SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT
Manu Sharma appealed twice in Supreme Court. Following the conviction of the High Court, on April 19th, 2010; Supreme Court upheld his conviction and his imprisonment for life. The Supreme Court held that “presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and too when the investigation is pending.”
During his time in prison, he was granted parole many times. First, he was given parole of 30 days to visit his ailing mother which was later on extended more to 30 days. Another parole was given to him because he wanted to give his exams. He was even involved in many charitable works. He also started a Non-Profit organization for the rehabilitation of prisoners. According to his conduct, he was on a road to redemption.
DISCHARGE FROM JAIL
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal approved the premature release of Manu Sharma, who is serving a life sentence under a case, according to an official order. The Delhi Sentence Review Board (SRB) which comes under the Delhi Government had recommended his release from the Tihar Jail last month. The 43-year old, who has spent around 17 years in prison, had been out on parole as a part of measures taken across the country to prevent crowding in the coronavirus crisis. Manu Sharma finally got discharged from jail on May 10, 2020.
The LG office has clarified that it had concurred with the recommendations of the Sentence Review Board (SRB) on May 21st, as approved by the Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Kumar Jain to release 19 prisoners, including Siddharth Vashistha, aka Manu Sharma, as covered under the guidelines of the provisions of the CrPC and the prison rules.
After coming out of prison, he gave an interview where he stated that he is now a changed person, and he will be grateful to Sabrina Lal for forgiving him. In one of the NDTV interviews Sabrina said, “In this period, he has been doing good work for charity and helping inmates in jail, which I feel is a reflection of reform”.
We have seen many cases but cases like these make us believe in our judiciary system. It assures us that Court always gives us Justice rather than judgment. In this case, media played a very important and powerful role in bringing justice to the innocent. Our gutsy media along with other common people insured that the accused pay for his sins. The sting operation, message campaign, candle march, and all the protests worked as a boon for the case. It left a major impact on the minds of people.
This case left a mark on every individual’s heart because it seemed very personal to everyone. As we all are aware that Courts provide justice but if one believes to raise his voice just like our gutsy and lionhearted media did, no one can stop us. This case was revolving around a political angle which initially gave us a fear of biasness. But our judiciary system proved otherwise. At times Justice can be delayed but it will be always served.
Author(s) Name: Muskan Baid (Ideal Institute of Management and Technology, GGSIPU)