New Delhi citizens protest the ruling of Jessica Lal's murderer, 2006

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Time Period:  
21 February
20 December
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
New Delhi
To get the Indian courts to change its acquittal of the arrested suspects and charge them as guilty for taking part in Jessica Lal's murder.

On 30 April 1999, at 2 am, Jessica Lal was shot dead at an unlicensed bar in New Delhi. Lal, a 34-year-old model at the time, had been working as a barmaid at a party filled with actors, politicians, and other socialites. A little after midnight, the bar had run out of alcohol. At 2 AM, Siddharth Vashisht, known as Manu Sharma, along with some of his friends, Alok Khanna, Amardeep Singh Gill, and Vikas Yadav, asked Lal for some alcohol. Sharma offered to pay Lal 1000 Rupees, but she refused. He then took out a .22 pistol and fired it twice, killing Lal with a bullet in the head.

Sharma and many of his friends avoided the police for several weeks. It was not until 4 May 1999, that the police arrested Sharma’s accomplices, Khanna and Gill. Then, on 6 May 1999, the police arrested Sharma himself.

On 3 August 1999, the police charged Sharma with murder and destruction of evidence, while they charged his accomplices, Khanna, Gill, and Yadev with destruction of evidence, conspiracy, and harboring a suspect.

Despite these charges, Sharma and his accomplices did not face trial for several years. India’s judicial system is quite slow, and its conviction rate is below 30%. In addition to this, Sharma was the son of a wealthy and influential Congress-nominated Member of Parliament, Venod Sharma. His family’s wealth and power made it more difficult for the police and court to avoid corruption and bribery.

On 21 February 2006, the court acquitted the arrested men, claiming that the police had failed to present a legitimate case because they could not locate the weapon. Although Sharma had confessed to the police, he had then retracted his statement claiming that it was taken without following legal procedures. Additionally, many of the witnesses that had originally reported the murder changed their stories, claiming that they did not see what happened.

Following the announcement of this acquittal, India’s urban middle class rose in protest, angry at the inadequate law enforcement and the ease with which the rich and famous manipulated the courts.

University students sent SMS messages around New Delhi, urging citizens to rise up and protest against the faulty law system. The protestors wanted to get justice for Lal’s death. They called the acquittal the “miscarriage of justice.”

A 24-hour news channel, NDTV, started a campaign urging viewers to petition for a new trial. A few days after this campaign began, the station had received more than 200,000 cellphone text messages urging retrial.

Indian citizens went to the streets for marches and rallies. On 4 March 2006, students held a candlelight vigil at the capital’s monument, India Gate. This action was inspired by a movie, “Rang de Basanti.”

On 7 March 2006, a pack of 150 college students poured onto Parliament Street in New Delhi to protest. They chanted “Jessica, Jessica” and pumped their fists. They also held up signs that read “Wake up from Ur Insane Slumber” and “We are in a country where you can get away if your dad is a politician.”

Surya, a Brazilian cosmetics company, passed out “Justice for Jessica” temporary tattoos. The company also ran a website, “Justice for Jessica” that produced names and e-mail addresses of thousands of Indians who registered their support for the protests.

Newspapers and televisions ran headlines that read “No one killed Jessica.” In addition to the candlelight vigils that models, fashion designers, friends, and relatives held at India Gate, citizens held a week long t-shirt campaign in which they wore t-shirts that read “we support re-investigation of Jessica Lal’s murder, let the truth come out.”

In response to this media pressure and protests, the police, headed by police commissioner KK Paul, petitioned the High Court for a review of the case. On 22 March 2006 the court issued warrants against the nine defendants that had stood trial.

On 9 September 2006, Tehelka, a news magazine, aired a show on the television that showed that witnesses had accepted bribes to retract their initial testimonies. Venod Sharma was a part of these bribes.

On 15 December 2006, the High Court ruled that Sharma guilty based on existing evidence.

On 20 December 2006, the courts gave Sharma a sentence of life imprisonment. The courts had answered to the public’s pressure.

On 19 April 2010, the Supreme Court of India approved the sentences and confirmed that Sharma was, without a doubt, guilty.

Research Notes
“Jessica Lall murder case: Chronology of events,” The Hindu, 19 April 2010,

“Life Term of Indian Model Jessica Lal’s Killer Upheld,” BBC News, 19 April 2010,

“Jessica Lal Murder Case: All 9 Accused Acquitted,” The Times of India, 22 February 2006,

O’Flaherty, Brendan and Rajiv Sethi, “Public Outrage and Criminal Justice Lessons From the Jessica Lal Case,” 16 March 2009,

Singh, Onkar, “Thousands Protest for Justice for Jessica,” Rediff India Abroad, 4 March 2006,

“Delhi Demands Justice for Jessica Lal,” The Hindu, 3 March 2006,

Kumar, Brajesh and Ginnie Mahajan, “Delhi Does a Candle-Light Vigil for Jessica,” DNA, 4 March 2006,

Sengupta, Somini, “Acquittal in Killing Unleashes Ire at India’s Rich,” The New York Times, 13 March 2006,

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Aileen Eisenberg, 07/04/2013