Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.
This week, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was granted bail by a Delhi court in an FIR registered by Delhi police’s Special Cell.
The bail verdict accepted the submissions of his lawyer Vrinda Grover, who had previously made a strong pitch for the fact-checker’s release before a magistrate, albeit unsuccessfully.
Before the sessions court, Grover argued for her client’s personal liberty, brought up the anonymity of the Twitter user whose complaint led to the arrest of Zubair, and even showed the Court a clip from the movie 1989 Kissi Se Na Kehna to buttress her case.
Grover is a human rights lawyer based in New Delhi. She obtained her law degree from Delhi University and her Master's in Law from New York University. She has been active in the women's rights and human rights movements in India.
She has contributed to the drafting of laws to protect women and children from domestic violence and sexual violence, besides advocating for laws prohibiting torture and legislation for protection against communal and targeted violence.
She has been practicing as an independent lawyer at the Supreme Court of India, the High Courts and the trial courts in India since 1989, and specialises in criminal law, women’s rights and human rights.
She is regularly invited at training institutions for police, bureaucracy and judicial academies. She was nominated among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2013.
Senior Advocate Rebecca John, who has known Grover for over three decades, admired her “unparalleled” commitment towards human rights.
“I have known Vrinda for close to 35 years and we have remained close friends. We shared notes at the Law Faculty and often studied together,” shared John.
The senior lawyer recollected that Grover’s father was a “legendary trial courts and High court lawyer in Delhi,” who took the responsibility to get John placed in a “stellar criminal law office” in Delhi.
“Mr. PP Grover was a classic defence lawyer and was a brilliant cross-examiner. Vrinda’s commitment to human rights is unparalleled and she works tirelessly to uphold the rights and liberties of individuals,” added John.
Senior Advocate Sanjoy Ghose recollected an instance in the Delhi High Court when someone referred to Grover and himself as “activists”.
"Vrinda hit back saying that this was a subtle way to devalue our status as advocates and bracket us as inferior to the ‘regular' or ‘commercial lawyers',” he said.
“She is a bully and will never take no for an answer,” quipped Ghose.
Known for never mincing her words, Grover has been a champion for the rights of women and marginalised groups. Speaking on the Exception in Indian rape law that effectively condones marital rape, she said,
“A wife loses her sovereign right over her own body and her sexual autonomy stands denuded.”
Speaking on gender equality in the light of Vishakha guidelines, Grover had emphasised that the government cannot shirk its responsibilities by terming sexual harassment a woman’s issue.
“It (the government) must actively use the powers conferred upon it by the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2013 (POSH) Act to seek reports and monitor complaints of sexual harassment, especially where the proceedings are opaque,” she outlined.
She has appeared for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment, death penalty convicts and other human rights violations. Some of the prominent cases include the Soni Sori rape case; the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case; the Hashimpura killings and the 2004 Ishrat Jahan case.
Most recently, her arguments for Zubair garnered considerable attention in the media. She argued that there was no case against Zubair, who was was arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity between groups for tweeting an image from a movie clip in 2018.
Before the Court, she highlighted,
“Somebody feeling hurt for a 4-year-old tweet after digging it out doesn't constitute an offence."
On the day Zubair was granted bail, she countered the case registered by the Delhi Police alleging that the fact-checker had violated provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) by receiving funds from undisclosed persons in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.
Grover argued that the +92 found in the Excel sheet of contributions to the news platform did not signify a Pakistan code, but was a formula for computation.