Women rights activists called “unfortunate” the decision to prematurely release Jessica Lal murder case convict Manu Sharma, saying it sets a wrong precedent. He was freed from prison for “satisfactory jail conduct”.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal approved the premature release of Manu Sharma, who is serving a life sentence in the case, according to an official order.
The Delhi Sentence Review Board (SRB) which comes under the Delhi government had recommended his release from the Tihar Jail last month. The 43-year-old, who has spent around 17 years in prison, had been out on parole as part of measures taken by prisons across the country to prevent crowding in the coronavirus crisis.
Activist-politician Brinda Karat said there is absolutely no ground for giving Manu Sharma a lenient release and that it is surprising that a board headed by a Delhi minister should come forth with such a recommendation.
“On what basis did the Delhi Sentence Review Board take a decision to recommend a criminal, who is convicted of the murder of a young woman, to be released three years earlier? It sets a very wrong precedent,” she said.
“Good behaviour is subjective… When somebody is convicted, unless he is proved to be not guilty, but he is proven guilty. He has a 20-year sentence… he should complete those 20 years and particularly in such a case in which a young girl was so brutally murdered. So it sets a wrong precedent,” Ms Karat added.
Women rights activist Shamina Shafiq said the decision to release Sharma is “shocking” and “bizarre”.
“Already the country has been dealing with so much as far as crime against women is concerned. For ‘Nirbhaya’, it took so many years of turmoil to get justice for the family. Now, we see one more person walking scot-free and in the name of what? In the pretext of what?” she said.
“I hope better sense prevails and the government thinks about giving stringent punishment and send a strong message to society instead of actually going so soft on the criminals, especially those with serious charges. It is not something to rejoice… it is something to really think and ponder as to whether the government is actually serious about ‘Beti Bachao” or is it only sloganeering,” Ms Shafiq, a former member of the National Commission for Women, said.
Chhavi Methi from the Bharatiya Samajik Jagritik Sanghatan called the development “unfortunate”.
“The decision is unfortunate. It is very subjective what good behaviour is and what work he has actually done to show ‘good behaviour’. It should not be a ground for basing early release,” she noted.
Yogita Bhayana, who heads the People Against Rape in India (PARI), however, said Manu Sharma should be given the “benefit of doubt”.
“… if he has reformed and if he is going early because of his good behaviour, it should be fine. I heard his stories about regret. What happened is unfortunate, but if he regrets it, then he should be given the benefit of doubt. And it isn’t that he is coming out very early, he is coming out two-three years early. A murderer can be reformed not a rapist,” she said.
The son of former union minister Venod Sharma, Manu Sharma was convicted in 2006 for shooting model Jessica Lal after she refused to serve him a drink on April 30, 1999, at a party in Tamarind Court restaurant in Delhi owned by socialite Bina Ramani.
A trial court acquitted him of murder but the High Court, which took up the case amid nationwide outrage and protests, reversed the decision and sentenced him to a life term. The Supreme Court confirmed the sentence in 2010.