Exactly at 4.30 am on August 14, 2004, hangman Nata Mullick, on getting the magistrate’s signal, pulled the lever at the Alipore Central Jail in Kolkata.
On his 42nd birthday, after spending nearly 14 years in prison, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged to death.
Convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl in an apartment in South Kolkata in 1990, Dhananjoy’s case is one of the most controversial in the recent history of executions carried out in India.
Director Arindam Sil is now bringing what he calls the “true case history of a murder and trial that shook the nation” to the big screen, with his upcoming Bengali film “Dhananjoy”.
“While many politicians and the media supported the court’s hanging verdict, many others felt that a poor security guard was executed, though his guilt was far from established. My film will be a human document with an investigative angle to prove that Dhananjoy was not guilty. I hope this film will reopen the case and prove Dhananjoy’s innocence.There is a clause in the Constitution, which has the provision for a person to be proven innocent even after his death,” Sil told The Times of India earlier this year.
A gruesome crime
On March 5, 1990, 14-year-old Hetal Parekh was found dead in her third floor apartment in Bhowanipore. Dhananjoy was a security guard at the apartment complex.
Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay in a piece for The Indian Express wrote that Parekh’s parents had given their house keys to Dhananjoy while stepping out. They had asked the guard to hand it over to their daughter when she returned from school.
Dhananjoy, however, is said to have followed Hetal inside the house on her return. “The girl choked to death while she was being raped,” a police officer part of the investigation team in the case told the publication.
Soon after the incident that would leave the city in shock, Dhananjoy, according to the officer, would go absconding for a while before he was finally nabbed.
The Alipore Sessions Court sentenced Dhananjoy to death in 1991, and both the Calcutta High Court as well as the Supreme Court upheld it. Dhananjoy also filed mercy petitions with the Governor of West Bengal and the President, but both were rejected.
The Parekh’s sold their apartment in the city and moved to Mumbai.
Years later, as the case would drag in court, the victim’s brother wrote to then President APJ Abdul Kalam demanding capital punishment for his sister’s rapist and murderer.
“Why shouldn’t he be hanged? If someone, who is supposed to guard the life and property of a place, ends up with a murderous act then what do we expect, tell me,” he would tell The Telegraph over the phone in 2004.
The public was furious.
“Hetal was one of our brightest students. A lovely girl who met a very ghastly end. If Dhananjoy is hanged the pain won’t disappear, but there would be some kind of justice,” Gillian Rosemary D’Costa Hart, the principal of Welland Gouldsmith School where Hetal was a student, told Frontline.
Meera Bhattacharya, wife of then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, had also campaigned in favour of Dhananjoy’s execution.
The other side
Dhananjoy is said to have pleaded innocence till the very end. “Dhananjoy kept saying, ‘Ami Nirdosh. Amake mere phelchhe sab (I am innocent. They are all killing me)’ as we led him to the gallows,” Nata Mullick, who hanged him, told Rediff.
Those against capital punishment opposed pleas for his execution. But some believed, and still do, that Dhananjoy was just a poor man who was hanged even before his guilt could be established.
His lawyer’s too had argued in court that his conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, and that no DNA testing had been done.
In 2015, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), referring to a research report prepared by two scholars from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Kolkata, stated that it found several anomalies in the police investigation of the case.
In a statement it released, PUDR said that the report released by the ISI scholars exposed the shoddy and biased investigation and trial in the case and provided evidence that points towards his (Dhananjoy’s) innocence and wrongful execution.
According to the report by Debashish Sengupta and Prabal Chaudhury titled ‘Re-Analysis of the case of the murder of Hetal Parekh: And the Judicial Killing of Dhananjay Chatterjee’ all the mainstays of the police and prosecution’s story are open to question.
They also listed several inconsistencies that the research report found in the investigation. “There were 21 stab wounds on the victim’s body, but no murder weapon was recovered. The victim’s body was lying in a pool of blood, yet no witness claimed that they saw any blood on Dhananjoy’s clothes. While semen traces were found in the victim’s vagina, no DNA test was done to ascertain if it was of the accused,” they wrote.
Asok Kumar Ganguly, a former Supreme Court judge, said that it was often people from the poorer sections who were handed death penalties as they could not afford proper representation. “A poor person has no clout and is mostly victimised. In my view, Dhananjoy Chatterjee is no exception… and in the case, proper police investigation did not take place,” he had told The Hindu.
Hetal Parekh was wronged and her attacker deserves the strictest of punishments. But was Dhananjoy really the culprit or was he too a victim?
N Jayaram in a piece for Scroll.in asks if the case can now be reopened, evidences reexamined and verdict reconsidered.
He writes, “In Britain, the US and elsewhere, there have been numerous instances of cases being reopened long after – sometimes decades after – conviction and execution and of posthumous acquittals being pronounced. The Hetal Parekh case deserves such a démarche, in order to establish who was really guilty and if Chatterjee is found to have been innocent, an apology and compensation to his family.”