Manu Sharma is a Free Man. It’s True, No One Killed Jessica

Social Commentary

Manu Sharma is a Free Man. It’s True, No One Killed Jessica

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In Delhi, the convicted murderer Manu Sharma, also known as Siddharth Vashisht, was set free from Tihar Jail on the grounds of good behaviour. Sharma was the accused in one of the most high-profile trials of the Indian judicial system, the Jessica Lall murder case of 1999, which became an example of how power and privilege could be misused to get away with even a heinous crime like murder. That is, until the Delhi High Court overturned the trial court’s acquittal of Sharma, and found him guilty of murder, sentencing him to life imprisonment. Yesterday, the decision was taken by the Sentence Review Board, headed by Delhi’s Home Minister Satyender Jain and approved by the Lieutenant-Governor, Anil Baijal, to release Sharma after 17 years imprisonment on the grounds of good behaviour.

Sharma was found guilty of shooting the model Jessica Lall at a private party in South Delhi over a disagreement that stemmed from her refusing to continue serving him drinks. At the time, in 1999, Sharma’s father Venod Sharma was a leader of the Congress party from Haryana, and so wielded considerable influence. Since then, Venod Sharma has broken away from Congress and founded his own political party. The trial court that initially heard the case acquitted Sharma, leading to massive outrage from the public, which prompted the Delhi High Court to step in and take up the case again. Sharma was found guilty and sentence to jail. However, there are some who claim that Sharma’s connections and privilege served him well even during the term of his imprisonment, as he received many perks that regular prisoners of Tihar Jail do not.

Since 2017, Sharma had been making appeals to overturn his life sentence, which had all been rejected. But with the coronavirus pandemic leading to fears of overcrowding in jail, this could have been a possible reason for his release at this juncture. In 2018, Sabrina Lall, the sister of Sharma’s victim, stated that she had forgiven him as he had spent many years serving his jail term, and that for her, his conviction was justice served.

Yet even as Sharma walks out a free man, many have pointed out that the Delhi Police are continuing to make arrests on one hand, while authorities call for the need to decongest jails on the other. The recent arrests of the activists protesting the government’s Citizenship Amendment Act are a stark contrast to the release of Manu Sharma, a convicted killer.

Jessica Lall’s mother never got to see her daughter’s killer convicted, and her father died shortly after the verdict. Now, her sister will get to see him walk out of jail a free man.