May 21, 2001


 Search the Internet

E-Mail this interview to a friend

Print this page
Recent Interviews
'There is no comparison
     between Jaya and
     - K Malaisamy
'Our decision will
     not be negative'
     - Shabir Shah
'The people's mandate
     has frightened us'
     - Vayalar Ravi
'The drugs situation
     in India is not
     so alarming'
     - Gopal Acharya
'Some statements
     by BJP leaders
     cost us dearly'
     - Prafulla Mahanta

The Rediff Interview/Ajit Lal, father of murder victim Jessica Lal

The Rediff Interview/Ajit Lal, father of murder victim Jessica Lal

It has been an agonizing wait for Ajit Lal. Two years after daughter Jessica was killed at Tamarind Court, a Delhi restaurant, Lal and his family have had the misfortune of seeing three witnesses turn hostile in court.

In a murder that created a sensation throughout the country, Jessica Lal was allegedly shot dead by Manu Sharma because she refused to serve him a drink on April 29, 1999.

Though the witnesses have denied that Jessica was shot by Sharma, the family has not given up hope. Ajit Lal has not missed a single day in court. He tells Onkar Singh that he hopes justice will eventually be done.

When the proceedings began after two years, did you hope things would go your way?

We were certainly hopeful. We are aware of the pitfalls of the judicial system, particularly the delays that contribute to certain problems. We are still hopeful that justice will be done to us one day.

Were you shocked when the first witness, Shyan Munshi, turned hostile and refused to support the prosecution?

We were shell-shocked when he refused to identify the accused. We were shocked because he comes from a well-educated Bengali family. He is educated and had known Jessica. In fact, he was working with her as a bartender on that day.

We knew that in a murder trial, there are some qualms when it comes to identifying the accused. We thought he would say -- 'I am not sure', etc. But what he said was shocking. It looked as if he was a defence witness.

Did you expect the other witnesses to also turn hostile?

After his deposition we were a little apprehensive. We realised we were battling a party that has a lot of money and influence. We were apprehensive that they must have worked on the eyewitnesses. It is possible they have bought the other two witnesses also.

So when Shiv Dass (the other key witness) did not support the prosecution you were not surprised. Is that correct?

'I do not give up hope. We hope the circumstantial evidence will be strong enough to convict the guilty'
After Shyan Munshi turned hostile we expected anything. He [Shiv Dass] comes from a middle-class family, he could easily be lured. He was very scared when he came to court that day. When a person of his level changes his statement it does not surprise me. Maybe he was under threat or under inducement.

What about Karan Rajput [the third key witness who retracted], who denied his presence in Delhi on the day of the tragedy?

He is playing both ways. He met my daughter Sabrina and told her he had been paid money. He assured us time and again that he was going to stick to the original story. But we all know what he said in court.

He played a tape-recorded conversation -- between him and one of the agents of the opposite party -- to my daughter [to show] how he was being induced. We knew he was unstable, yet we thought maybe we could depend upon him. Even if he spoke 50 per cent of the truth it would be okay.

Are you sure the tape-recorded conversation was between him and "one of the agents" of the accused?

Since it was not played to me, I cannot say for sure if it is true. At one place they have said Shyan Munshi is already on our side. He told us that Munshi was staying at a big hotel in Delhi. My daughter called up the hotel and found that the information given to her was true.

The case has received a major setback because of the three witnesses turning hostile. Are you still hopeful that justice will be done?

I do not give up hope for the simple reason that we believe in God. I am sure if nothing else, He will see to it that some justice is done to us. We hope the circumstantial evidence will be strong enough to convict the guilty.

Do you think the witnesses who turned hostile should be forced to undergo lie-detector tests?

'The parents of the accused came to our house and said they wanted to call on us, but did not have the courage to do so'

We have not thought of this at all. Now that you have mentioned an option to us, we will certainly discuss it with the public prosecutor. He is already thinking of moving the court for permission to book the hostile witnesses for perjury.

Is it true that Manu Sharma's parents visited your home and apologised to you?

Yes, this is true. On December 25, 1999 we heard a knock at 11 in the morning. I opened the door and saw a couple. The man said: 'You don't know me but could we come in?' I asked them to come in. Then he asked me if my wife could join us. I called my wife.

He then introduced himself as the father of the accused and said he and his wife wanted to call on us, but did not have the courage to do so. For 15 minutes there was no conversation. Then they got up to go. My wife noticed they had left behind some flowers. So she asked Mrs Sharma about them. Mrs Sharma said these flowers were meant for Jessica. We accepted the flowers and placed them on her grave the next day.

Your wife has told the media that she does not want Manu Sharma to be hanged, but he should stay in jail for a long time so that he realises his mistake. Is that true?

Yes, it is true. We do not want Manu Sharma to be hanged. We want him to stay in jail for the period that he deserves to be there. He should realise what he has done.


Woe to the status quo
'Journalists just hate anyone like me who is prominent'
Setback in Jessica Lal murder case
HC issues notice on transfer of Jessica case to CBI

Design: Dominic Xavier

Tell us what you think of this interview