Was Dhananjoy Guilty of Rape & Murder, Beyond Reasonable Doubt?
I remember when Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged. It was a huge to-do: Kolkata schoolmates were talking about it in incensed voices, quitened by teachers – only to rush out into corridors to resume conversations. Parents spoke about it with each other over the morning’s chaa-biskoot, dissecting the damning Bengali fine print, with other parents at school gates as they rushed to get their wards home, in the streets, in the confines of their homes. You couldn’t escape it. August 2004 was a particularly belligerent time. You only saw its culmination in the hanging of the man in question – Dhananjoy Chatterjee in the wee hours of August 14, 2004.
I remember an uncle, a court clerk at the time, rail against the hanging once, on a family reunion. “Hang a man after 14 years of jailing him? After 14 years of punishment already? How is this fair? Was this ever properly investigated?” But his was a minority opinion, hushed quickly by angry aunts and cousins who told him, in no uncertain times, that such is what should’ve happened to a man accused of rape. “What if this had happened to so-and-so?” asked an irate female cousin, pointing to her daughter.
No one entertained a second opinion. A second opinion could not exist.
Until Arindam Sil’s celluloid creation Dhananjay, recreating the sequence of dubious events that led to the first case of judicial execution in India in the 21st century – for a crime not related to terrorism.
Was he guilty? Was he not? The case, well after Dhananjoy was executed, has thrown up more red flags than it did around the time it actually came to the fore – and here are some of them:
1. How Old Was Hetal Parekh?
While several newspapers at the time of the rape and murder in 1990 – as well as many in 2004 when Dhananjoy was executed – reported Hetal Parekh to be 14 years old, it is believed that she actually 18. Hetal was a Class X student of Welland Gouldsmith School in Kolkata, who, on the day of the murder, had returned home from her ICSE examinations. This was corroborated by a neighbour, Kajal Bagchi, who told Times of India in 2004 that she was probably the last person to see Hetal before she was killed. Bagchi lived in a building on the other side of Padmapukur Road (where Hetal’s building, Anand Apartment was) – and it was a building Hetal frequented for she was helped in her studies by a Gujarati gentleman living above Bagchi’s first-floor flat.
On the afternoon of March 5, 1990, Parekh was again coming down from the gentleman’s flat after returning from her school. She had not been to her home yet, she told Bagchi, and wanted to show the day’s question paper to ‘Sir”’. But, as the gentleman was not there, she would come back again, she told Bagchi. But that was not to be. The last words she exchanged with Parekh (as it would turn out later), as far as Bagchi remembered on Tuesday, went something like this. Bagchi: ‘How did your exams go?’ Parekh: ‘They went off very well. I will be coming back again after lunch as Sir has gone out. Bye.’
2. Was Hetal Parekh Raped?
In July 2015, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (a four-decades-old New Delhi-based volunteer outfit) put out a statement arguing that Chatterjee – a security guard at the Parekhs’ building complex – was framed. This statement was based on a comprehensive study published by two professors from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Kolkata, Debasis Sengupta and Probal Chaudhuri. In their analysis, Sengupta and Chaudhuri strongly argued against the possibility of rape:
In response to the police’s query about whether the victim had been raped, the autopsy doctor only wrote that she had been subjected to sexual intercourse before her death, as evidenced by fresh tear in the hymen and matted pubic hair, sample of which later revealed the presence of semen. Yet there is no indication that the intercourse was a violent incident. In fact, most of the injuries were in the face and the neck area, while there was no injury in the breasts or the genitals. Semen and blood were found in the victim’s underskirt, but no semen was found in her vaginal swab. These findings indicate that there was a gentle and consensual intercourse followed by ejaculation outside the vagina, and then the partners had dressed up. Indeed, the victim’s partner in sex and her assailant were likely to be different persons altogether. The autopsy doctor did not peruse the forensic findings for which he had himself sent away samples.
Also, since – contrary to press reports of the time – Hetal Parekh was 18, her choice to indulge in consensual sex with anyone would have been her business, and no one else’s.
3. What Evidence Did the Cops Have Against Dhananjoy?
The police at the time of investigation had brought a few pieces of circumstantial evidence against Dhananjoy, as also three dubious eye-witness accounts. A security guard and his supervisor at the building claimed to have seen Dhananjoy enter the building. Hetal Parekh was said to have been killed between 5:20 and 5:50 pm – a time when her mother had supposedly gone to the temple. During that half hour, the guard and the supervisor had apparently called out to Dhananjoy, and he had reportedly leaned out of the Parekhs’ third-floor balcony to answer their call.
But why would anyone who had proceeded to rape and murder Parekh (21 injury marks were found on her body) then find the time to dress up and casually lean out of a balcony, giving himself away? In fact, according to Sengupta and Chaudhuri’s study,
The prosecution also had a third eye witness, a liftman, who had initially said that he had dropped Dhananjoy off at the third floor flat – but the liftman later turned hostile, midway through his testimony.
4. What Was Dhananjoy’s Own Statement in the Case?
Dhananjoy, for 14 long years, steadfastly maintained his innocence – never once admitting his guilt. “Ami nirdosh. Amake mere phelchhe shob (I am innocent. They are killing me)” were apparently his last words – according to his hangman Nata Mullick. Mullick, in an interview to Rediff at the time, had discussed Dhananjoy’s mental health at the time, stating that Dhananjoy had simply said: “Tomader mongol hok. Tomader kaaj tomra koro (I wish you all well. Do your duty)”.
‘Dhananjoy did not want to be carried to the gallows and preferred to walk up,’ he said, adding that before that he offered his hands to be tied in the back. The hangman went on to say that he, and his son Mahadev and grandson, did not face any resistance from the convict. ‘Dhananjoy seemed unnerved even when he was on his way to the gallows,’ Mullick said, refusing to be accompanied by hand. The death row convict even said, ‘I am innocent. However, whatever the government decides, will be done,’ the hangman quoted him as having muttered at that time.
The Hetal Parekh case deserves a re-look, if only to establish without an iota of doubt the guilt of Dhananjoy Chatterjee who lived in uncertainty for 14 long years and denounced his culpability for just as long. Whether innocent or guilty, Dhananjoy was undoubtedly meted out two punishments, condemned for life – and condemned to die.
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