Updated: August 17, 2021 8:29:28 am
What price does a woman pay for saying no? In the case of Jessica Lall, the answer was her life. On April 29, 1999, the 34-year-old woman refused to serve a drink to the son of a Haryana Congress politician because the bar had closed. Manu Sharma pumped a bullet into her head — in the presence of several witnesses, some of Delhi’s richest and shiniest. All of whom had the same advice for Lall’s family: Don’t mess with the powerful. She was the quieter and more diffident of the two sisters, but Sabrina Lall, who died in Gurgaon on Sunday, too, said no.
Sabrina’s fight for justice exposed much that was wrong in the Delhi of the late 1990s, where a macho culture of entitlement met post-liberalisation money in a toxic rush. It exposed the brazenness with which the powerful bent justice, intimidated witnesses and bought off the willing. It shattered her family. Jessica’s mother died of heartbreak in 2002. Their father died two months after the February 2006 trial court ruling that acquitted Sharma. He had not known a night’s peaceful sleep since his daughter’s death.
“No one killed Jessica,” the headlines said, voicing the outrage of the metropolitan middle class that saw Jessica as one of their own. Prime-time TV coverage, candlelight vigils and SMS polls for justice laid a template for public protests for the next two decades — and took Sabrina, who till then had fought a lonely dispirited battle that swallowed up all her joys, by surprise. In 10 months, the verdict was reversed, and Sharma convicted. In later, less-innocent years, if protests prompted by violence against women would turn into calls for vengeance and death, Sabrina refused to walk that path. In 2020, she wrote to Tihar jail, saying she had no objection to Sharma’s early release. She had won, but there was no hate in her heart.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 17, 2021 under the title ‘Sabrina’s no’.
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