“Whenever I go to meet her in jail, she asks if I have arranged a lawyer for her bail…she keeps crying and is concerned whether she will even be able to appear for her upcoming exams…even murderers get lawyers to fight their case but my little sister is languishing in jail because no lawyer is ready to take her case,” said Sahira, the elder sister of Sonu Mansuri, who was arrested last month on the basis of a complaint by lawyers linked to Hindutva outfits.
One month on, it is a “diktat” by the same set of lawyers that is allegedly preventing others from arguing for Mansuri’s bail, sources told Newslaundry. The counsel who had initially filed her bail petition remained absent at the four hearings this month, and the court eventually dismissed her bail plea on Monday.
What the case was about
A 21-year-old law intern and student of Dewas government law college, Mansuri is in Indore central jail under judicial custody after she was labelled a PFI agent and booked for impersonating a lawyer, on the basis of a complaint filed by lawyers linked to Hindutva groups.
The complaint was filed under IPC sections 419 (punishment for cheating by personation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) at the MG Road police station.
Newslaundry how a section of the media propagated the claim by right-wing lawyers that she took cash for gathering information about communally charged cases for PFI – an assertion contested by a client of Noor Jahan, the lawyer Mansuri was interning under. The client, Asif Ansari, told the police that the cash these lawyers recovered from her was actually given by him as legal fees for a cheque bounce case. However, while branding Mansuri a PFI agent, a section of the media did not even bother to seek her or her family’s response.
The complainants had also alleged that Mansuri was recording a video of court proceedings but sources in the bar association told Newslaundry that no such recording was found in her phone and it was only a judge’s prerogative to initiate proceedings if video recordings could merit legal action.
The case against Mansuri, Newslaundry found, was only ostensibly linked to anger among a section of the lawyers against a Supreme Court advocate, who they assumed was linked to Mansuri.
Mansuri had been regularly visiting the Indore district court over the last five months to observe court proceedings, and was mistakenly linked to Supreme Court lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi – an eyesore for Hindutva activists for his legal support in several sensitive cases. Hashmi had last year secured bail for a bangle seller who was thrashed by Hindutva activists for allegedly hiding his Muslim identity. That case had courted controversy with even Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra alleging that the man had Pakistan links on social media.
And on the day Mansuri was accused of spying for PFI, she had followed the Supreme Court lawyer outside the court, after a hearing in a case against a Bajrang Dal leader. During the trial, Hashmi had been threatened by these lawyers on the court’s premises.
‘Not safe to appear for her openly’
Since her arrest, Mansuri’s family has approached several lawyers, including two from Indore, two from Khargone, and a team of four lawyers from Delhi, but none of them could contest the bail petition.
A lawyer told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity, “It’s not safe to appear for her openly. They are very vindictive and could target anyone appearing for her in the court. Nobody wants to risk their safety.”
Another lawyer said, “It’s unfortunate but we are helpless. We have to work here; we cannot go against them. There is fear of being attacked physically and that’s why no one wants to take a chance.”
Amit Shrivastav, a Supreme Court lawyer, was part of a team of advocates who came to Indore to argue for Mansuri’s bail, but they had to return amid fears of an attack by local lawyers. He has filed a writ petition in the apex court seeking quashing of the FIR against Mansuri and an inquiry into her arrest by a sitting or retired high court judge. The petition also seeks bail for Mansuri and security for petitioners at the court compound and in Indore.
The petition is yet to be listed. “But once it’s admitted, we are hopeful that she will get bail,” Shrivastav said.
“Everybody knew that Sonu was a Muslim and worked under Noor Jahan. She was targeted just because of her identity. Without verifying, news organisations reported her as a PFI agent. We want the police to investigate the matter seriously because till now everything has happened with biases,” he had earlier told Newslaundry.
‘She keeps asking about her future’
Mansuri missed the first paper of her second year final exams on February 19. “She is concerned about her career and her law exams. She asked for books to study but authorities didn’t allow it unless we got permission from the court. My brother went to her college to inquire whether they will allow her to sit for exams but the college authorities told us that we have to get permission from the court,” said Sahira.
“She is the only one who is educated in our family. We don’t have a father and all of us siblings have toiled hard to educate her. We are landless laborers but we made sure that our youngest sister gets an education. She keeps asking me whether she will be allowed to pursue law.”
Newslaundry reached out to Gopal Kacholiya, the president of Indore Bar Association, but he refused to comment on the issue.
However, Anil Naidu, a VHP office-bearer and the lawyer who led the team which filed a case against Mansuri, denied there was any pressure on lawyers. “A team of lawyers had come from Delhi but they never came again. We have not threatened or pressured anybody to not appear for her case, but still, no one has appeared. As of now, she is in judicial custody. Things will get clear in the days to come. Maybe someone will appear.”