I am deeply sorry for pain I’ve caused to Jessica Lal’s family, says Manu Sharma
Manu Sharma said going to jail is one of the most difficult and scary things that can happen to anyone. I was a 23-year-old and going about my work and life.Updated: Jun 05, 2020 13:40 IST
Manu Sharma, 43, who was handed a life sentence for the 1999 murder of model Jessica Lal and was released from Tihar Jail this week, spoke to Prawesh Lama about the incident, life behind bars, the lessons he learnt during his incarceration, his NGO, and his future plans, among other things. Edited excerpts:
How do you look back at the 17 years you spent in prison?
Going to jail is one of the most difficult and scary things that can happen to anyone. I was a 23-year-old and going about my work and life. And one day, I suddenly woke up to the clanging sound of iron gates for a roll call at 5am. I found myself hauled up and paraded for a head count. The most difficult task of the day was probably using the toilets, since there are just five toilets for more than 500 inmates. A bucket of water was a luxury. You face a number of hardships in Tihar, but in time you learn to live with them. What is harder to get accustomed to is the isolation and a lack of knowledge of your family’s welfare.
The constant vigil that one has to maintain to protect oneself from the ruffians who rule the inside of the jails is mind-numbing. They can come at you at any time. When you sleep in a barrack -- as I did for quite a few of my earlier years -- you have to be constantly alert, even at night. That is the easiest time for them to attack. However, in my latter years when I was more used to jail life, I tried to spend my time in more constructive ways. My first assignment was to tend to the gardens and that gave me a lot of peace and tranquillity. Thereafter, I was asked to work in the Tihar jail factory, and I can say today that my 10 years spent in the factory helped keep my sanity. I tried to keep myself immersed in the work so as to stay away from the negativity of the jail environment. I also tried to read as much as possible and completed my degree in human rights and studied law as well.
In the last 21 years I have learned a lot of hard lessons and I hope and pray that they will help me as I strive for betterment in my life after prison.
How do you look back at that night and the events that followed?
I was a young 23-year-old boy. I never intended anyone any harm, and am very sorry for what happened. During this time, the toughest part by far was seeing my parents suffer. I feel the suffering I faced was nothing compared to what I saw in their eyes. I feel really sorry for what they had to go through for no fault of theirs. I am really thankful to God that this ordeal has come to an end after 21 long years.
What have you learnt from the mistake you made that night?
To be grateful to God for the second chance that I have been given and to my family and friends for standing by me.
Jail officers credit you for some good initiatives in the prison’s factory that helped the jail earn profits and reach out to a larger audience. Your comments.
When in jail, you are allotted work, and I was allotted to the jail factory. I tried to do the work assigned to me as diligently as possible. I can proudly say we were able to take the turnover of the jail factory and increase it from Rs 1 crore to Rs 32 crore and were also able to give work and wages to more than 600 inmates from just 70 earlier.
Now that you are a free man after 21 years, what are your plans?
Going forward, I hope and believe that I will be able to live a peaceful and fruitful life where I can support my family and carry on helping the unseen and unheard children of jail inmates, who are not currently being provided the means and aid that they require.
Jail officers say your NGO, Siddharth Vashishta Trust, helped in the rehabilitation of prisoners and their families. Will you continue this work?
I hope to not just continue the work we are doing now but also improve and do more for the children and families of the prisoners. I would like to highlight their suffering, not just in Delhi where we have been working, but across the nation, so that these children are given the acknowledgement and help that they deserve. I hope to help them gain the skills and support that they require to be independent and stand on their own two feet as responsible citizens. I learnt a lot in the last 21 years and my eyes were opened to some truly harsh realities.
What do you say to some people on social media, who say you should not have been released?
I have served my time and done my best to be the best person I could be and will continue to do so. I hope people are able to recognize this and allow me to proceed with my life.
Jessica Lal’s sister Sabrina had earlier written to the Tihar authorities that she had forgiven you for what happened that night. Your comments on this.
I have no words to express my sincere gratitude to Sabrina and her family. I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused them. I am eternally grateful for their magnanimity.
What would you say to a young Manu Sharma of 1999? What would you tell him about life?
Life can change in a minute, don’t take anything for granted.