A lawyer in Delhi defended the case in the Supreme Court for free. A lawyer in Lucknow braved repeated death threats. Two IIM graduates in Mysore — who initially did not know the difference between an FIR and a chargesheet — helped the family get legal help.
Behind the case of Manoj Kumar Gupta — the UP government engineer and graduate from the elite Institute of Technology (Benares Hindu University) who was murdered in December 2008 for refusing to pay donations for chief minister Mayawati's birthday celebrations — is a pan-Indian group of citizens driven by the desire to see justice done.
"I am just so happy right now," Anjali Mullati, alumni of IIM (Lucknow), batch of 1993, told Hindustan Times from Mysore, where she runs a finance-education company with her husband H Jaishankar (IIM Bangalore, 1991).
Anjali and Jaishankar connected Gupta’s family to Indra Bhushan Singh, a flinty, well connected Lucknow lawyer known for defending those who cannot access legal services. When the case reached the Supreme Court on four occasions, Kamani Jaiswal, one of India’s top lawyers, appeared for the Guptas gratis.
"This has been one of the most difficult cases of my life," said Singh, a lawyer for 35 years.
"Intense pressure was brought on witnesses, counsel and they (the accused) challenged everything; we had to fight simultaneously on many fronts." Every order passed by the trial judge in Lucknow was challenged, in the Allahabad high court and Supreme Court.
Singh was in the US when he first got a call from Anjali in January 2009. He cut short his trip and was hired by the UP government as public prosecutor after a request from the Gupta family.
Singh has been closely involved with Anjali and Jaishankar through the public-service initiative that they run, the Manjunath Shanmugham Trust, which they set up to ensure justice for the murder of Manjunath Shanmugham, an IIM Lucknow alumni and Indian Oil Corporation officer when he was killed on November 19, 2005, by a petrol pump owner adulterating fuel in a remote UP town.
Singh's ensured first conviction in Shanmugham's murder within nine months at a sessions court. The accused filed an appeal that was dismissed in the Allahabad high court and is now pending in the Supreme Court, where Jaiswal will represent the Shanmughams.
"They (the Trust) have done a fabulous job," said Jaiswal.
"They also help build the commitment of the lawyers in such cases, otherwise it becomes just another brief. After awhile, you just give up."
Jaiswal pointed to the difference the commitment of Anjali and Jaishankar and numerous other IIM alumni made to the Shanmughan case.
"Think about it, the parents live in the south, the murder was in Lakhimpuri Kheri," she said. "It's only with the backing of this group that the Manjunath case has come this far."
Singh has a record of defending those who cannot get legal representation. In 1994, he filed a public interest litigation and won the release of 36 women languishing in UP jails for between 20 and 26 years. Many were charged with murder jointly with their husbands, who were released after appeals. The women, abandoned by families on both sides, stayed in jail. Some had served their terms.
This legal struggle became the subject of a 1995 film, Barred for Life, made by the British Council, first shown in Bejing and still played at human-rights courses held by the Council worldwide.
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