Sabrina Lall, sister of model Jessica Lall, passed away on August 15, 2021, after a prolonged illness. She was only 53, and spent a major part of her life, fighting for justice for her sister.
In April 199, Jessica Lall was shot dead at a bar in Delhi, where she worked part-time as a bartender, simply because she refused drinks to the prime accused, Siddharth Vashishth aka Manu Sharma.
Manu Sharma, son of former INC leader, Venod Sharma, was convicted for life imprisonment, but released after 14 years, in 2020, on account of good conduct.
As per reports, Sabrina Lall had shared that she forgave Manu Sharma, and in 2018, had even written to the prison authorities that she had no objection to his release.
But while she may have found it in her heart to forgive her sister's killer, her fight for justice is one that is as inspiring, as it is heartbreaking.
Jessica Lall was murdered on a whim, by a man who could not fathom his desires being denied. A vibrant life ended in seconds and a single gunshot wound.
At half past 12 that night, I got a call on my office landline saying, ‘Come to the hospital immediately. Shona’s hurt.’ Still, I didn’t take it seriously, ‘Did she twist her ankle or something?’ I asked. Then, the voice on the other end uttered the words that changed my life forever–‘Your sister, Jessica Lal, has been shot.’”
- Sabrina to Humans of Bombay
And her younger sister, Sabrina, who had just set up a travel company with her friend, was left fighting for justice for what should have been, an open-and-shut case. After all, she was murdered in a bar, and there were multiple eye-witnesses.
My blood boiled–my sister’s life was more valuable than 1000 Rs. or a glass of wine! In that moment, I transformed–I was no longer the shy, timid Sabrina... I was confident that it’d be an open & shut case–after all, over 100 people had witnessed it! Little did I know that my fight for justice had just begun.”
And yet, fear and intimidation by Sharma's family meant a long and hard fight for Sabrina, that lasted for 7 long years, before her sister's killer was put behind bars.
In fact, in the first trial, Sharma was acquitted by the court on account of witnesses turning hostile, and lack of evidence.
Once, Manu Sharma’s parents came home with a bouquet–on one hand, they were threatening witnesses; on the other, they were playing the sympathy card. Still, I had faith in the judicial system... But in January 2002, the High Court granted bail to Manu Sharma. I broke down in court; I’d lost. I decided then, ‘I’m never going to step foot in the court again,’ & Manu Sharma, my sister’s murderer, was allowed to walk away.”
- Sabrina to HoB
After three years of fighting for justice, and watching her parents suffer under the pressure (she lost her mother and her father suffered a stroke), she had to see Manu Sharma get acquitted.
As all the newspapers carried the headlines, ‘No one killed Jessica’, I hugged Dad & broke down, ‘How did he get away?’ I asked. But by then, dad had had 4 strokes; he couldn’t even understand me. And I had only Manu Sharma to blame; he didn’t just kill my sister but wiped out half my family.
- Sabrina to HoB
The result was met with widespread criticism, protests, campaigns, and candlelight vigils. Sabrina, only 3 years her sister's junior, was at the forefront of it all.
Along with Sabrina was Prabhloch Singh, the founder of "Middle Finger Protests", a "Human Rights Protection Group" from Chandigarh, Sharma's hometown.
After multiple protests, the case was tried again, and Sharma was convicted to life imprisonment. Though Sharma's lawyers challenged the order, SC upheld the decision.
Sabrina was only 31 when she lost her sister - a person whose positivity and vibrancy she missed every day, not just on birthdays and anniversaries.
She was jovial and positive in life. It is not just on birthdays and death anniversaries that I miss her, it is every day. I have lots of pictures of hers in my home and not that I need them to miss her, but they are there to remind me of her.
- Sabrina to PTI last year
Most people spend their 30s focusing on building their future, but Sabrina spent them fighting against a failed bureaucracy and political pressure. All for a sister, in whose memory, she wished to start a foundation that would help women in similar situations.
A beloved sibling and a woman who stood tall, even against multiple threats, Sabrina Lall's fight may have started to avenge her sister, but it became a symbol of a fight against the rich and privileged, for whom the normal rules don't apply. Until Sabrina, and the general public, forced them to comply with the rules and pay the price of their crimes.
May her soul rest in peace.