Today's papers in India are filled with stories about how Jessica Lall's murderer was brought to justice after 8 long years. There have been reams already written about the case. Basically, Jessica was shot at a party, in front of several eye-witnesses by the drunk son of a politician when she refused to serve him more drinks. She died en-route to hospital.
Earlier this year, Manu Sharma, whom several eye-witnesses at the party identified... and who fled from police initially... was acquitted.
What followed was unprecedented in India's modern history. This country has 38 news channels and many of them campaigned to have the case re-opened. Around the country, people emailed & texted their outrage directly to India's Prime Minister. According to the Hindustan Times, a poll conducted at the time showed public confidence in law enforcement was a pathetic 2.7, out of a possible 10.
Bizarrely, under Indian law, Jessica's family could not appeal the
acquittal. Instead, it's up to Indian police to challenge court
decisions, which they rarely do, and rarely do well. The system
makes it much easier for influential men like Manu Sharma to bribe,
threaten and influence the courts as well as the police. They can also
put tremendous pressure on witnesses, as there's no witness protection
programme and India's newspapers are filled with stories everyday of witnesses recanting their initial testimony.
But given the overwhelming media attention in Jessica's case, the police were compelled to appeal, and today, the appeal proved successful, with the High Court judges tearing apart the trial court's decision. Here are some quotes from the judgement:
"Grave miscarriage of justice"
"immature assesment (of evidence)...self-contradictory...not sustainable."
Key witnesses statement "wrongly discarded."
Prosecution's claim that there was a second weapon was, according to the High Court: "a concoction and a manipulation of evidence."
When the news broke on Monday, ordinary people in offices erupted into cheers. The verdict is an enormous relief to any Indian who cares about corruption in this country. At the same time, how sad that a guilty verdict in the face of overwhelming eye-witness evidence is headline news in the world's biggest democracy. It's a damning verdict on how archaic and corruptible the Indian justice system is.
And in spite of the successful campaign to get justice for Jessica, there are hundreds of other murders which are never successfully prosecuted. And neither is the Indian media incorruptible. This week's India Today profiles the sleazy lows cable news here will stoop to, including egging people on to commit suicide. In one case, a journalist allegedly provided the kerosene and matches.
One footnote to this awful saga... Manu Sharma's friend, Vikas Yadav was also convicted of destroying criminal evidence. But quite apart from that, Vikas (also the son of a powerful politician) is currently being tried for beating to death and burning his sister's boyfriend. But that's an equally sordid and fascinating story of power, corruption and justice for another day....