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When Delhi stood up for Jessica

For the first time the nation witnessed the middle-class involve themselves in the process of getting justice for an individual, reports Harish V Nair.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2006 02:01 IST

Jessica was shot point-blank in the presence of at least one hundred guests at the Tamarind Court party. Yet the killer walked scot-free 10 months ago.

The reason is not far to seek. When the case reached the court there were “no witnesses” to the incident. Almost all of them had been coerced and threatened not to divulge what they had seen and evidence was tampered with.

The acquittal shook the public conscience to the core. It brought into sharp focus a number of issues ailing our legal system and people realized how easy it is for the rich and powerful to get away with anything. Key accused Manu Sharma and accomplice Vikas Yadav were sons of powerful politicians who had influenced the police investigations and the trial.

The outpour of outrage was spontaneous. For the first time the nation witnessed the middle-class involve themselves in the process of getting justice for an individual. Thousands e-mailed and sms-ed their protest on petitions to every office of consequence, including the Chief Minister, Prime Minister and the President and others seeking remedies for the miscarriage of justice. There were demonstrations and candle light vigils.

"The Jessica verdict was an eye-opener and the public outrage only shows that the Indian public will no longer remain silent spectators to police sluggishness and shoddy trial. Everything is going to be under the public scanner,” Justice VS Mallimath, famous for his recommendations on reforming criminal justice system, told the Hindustan Times.

A poll conducted by the Hindustan Times immediately after the acquittals showed that on a scale of 1 to 10, the public's faith in law enforcement in India was about 2.7. The police was initially hesitant to challenge the acquittals. But eventually bowed to the public pressure and filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court.

The "Jessica-effect"

The wave of outrage had its effect on the trial of other pending high-profile cases. After a similar campaign for justice, the CBI brought the appeal in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case out of a six-year cold storage. The High Court fast-tracked the hearing and sentenced lawyer Santosh Kumar Singh to death. Bharti Yadav, a key witness in the Nitish Katara murder case, had been evading the court for two years. She finally flew down from UK and testified after a public outcry.

Relatives of the victims of the Uphaar fire tragedy also made used of the charged atmosphere. Acting on their petition, the  High Court ordered a fresh probe into tampering of evidence by the trial court staff.  “It seems the new criminal justice rules are being authored by Jessica Lall posthumously”, this remark by Vikas Yadav’s lawyer sums up the existing mood.