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The Ghost of Jessica Lall

delhi Updated: May 19, 2008 18:02 IST
Sarat C Das
Sarat C Das
Hindustan Times
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The Qutab Colonade, which is situated in the outlying area of historical Qutab Minar, appears to be an abandoned place at night. A series of regularly spaced white columns supporting an expanding roof, sealed wooden doors, and the belfry towering above the structure seems to be a dynasty on decay. The whole place was pitch dark at night except sometimes the headlight of passing by motors lighting up the whole place like a fire and light show. See video

On April 29, 1999, however, the whole place was well-lit. Leading socialite Bina Ramani had organised a party at Tamarind Court Café in this Qutab Colonade. It was to be a farewell party for her husband Georges Mailhot who was going abroad for six months. On that fateful night, several models were serving drinks at this occasion, including Jessica Lall. At about 2 am when the party was almost over, Manu Sharma, the son of a wealthy and powerful politician in Haryana, allegedly entered the restaurant and demanded liquor from Jessica.

Since the bar was being closed, Jessica told Sharma that no more drinks would be served. After an altercation, Sharma lost his temper and fired his gun -- once in the air and the second time at Jessica. The bullet struck her temple and she died on the spot. Sharma fled from the restaurant, leaving his car which was later moved by his friends. During an intense hunt for Sharma over a week, three of his friends were arrested, but Sharma himself went underground.

The gruesome death of Jessica Lall remained etched in the public memory. Ravi Shankar, a senior editor of India Today, said that his friend who was close to Bina Ramani asserted that the ghost of Jessica Lall haunted the Qutab Arcade. Some motorists, who lived in the neighbourhood, said they felt little uncomfortable while passing Qutab Colonade late in night.

Jessica Lal's trial, which ran for seven years, had gross inadequacies in the investigation, shoddy prosecution, and possible judicial lapses that led to Manu Sharma and a number of others being acquitted on February 21, 2006.

However, following intense media and public pressure, the prosecution appealed and the Delhi High Court conducted proceedings on a fast track with daily hearings over 25 days. The lower court was found erred in its judgement, and Manu Sharma was sentenced to life on December 20, 2006. However, this appeared to have not pacified Jessical Lall. The locals say that Jessica Lall is still sighted walking in the dark corridors of Qutab Colonade and sometimes appears on the roof near the belfry.