death penalty

How India hanged a poor watchman whose guilt was far from established

Timed to coincide with the law commission's public hearing on the death penalty on July 11, two scholars released an analysis highlighting several serious problems with the decade-old case.

Although bearing a Brahmin name, Dhananjay Chatterjee was far from being a member of the Kolkata bhadralok, or intellectual elite. He was an impoverished guard in a building where an 18-year-old named Hetal Parekh was found dead in March 1990. He was convicted of having raped and killed her and was hanged on his 39th birthday, August 14, 2004, protesting his innocence until the end.

His execution followed a shrill campaign waged by the wife of the then West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Chatterjee’s appeals were rejected by the then president APJ Abdul Kalam on the advice of arguably India’s worst home minister, Shivraj Patil, going by historian Ramachandra Guha’s estimation.

Recently, Abdul Kalam has been in the news saying he favours abolition of the death penalty. Had he applied his mind to the file put before him 11 years ago, it would have helped save the life of a man who was in all likelihood innocent.

In a similar situation, his predecessor in Rashtrapati Bhavan, KR Narayanan, had applied his mind wonderfully, as emerges from an anecdote narrated by his secretary, Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Delivering the People’s Union of Civil Liberties’ 35th JP Memorial Lecture in Bangalore on March 23 earlier this year, Gandhi described how he had received a call late at night from Chennai regarding the case of a man on death row in Tamil Nadu and how the president had unhesitatingly decided on commuting his sentence. Gandhi went on to speak of the independent and cerebral outlook that India’s sole Dalit president brought to his job.

For its part, India’s higher judiciary has not done enough to ensure that someone convicted of a capital crime receives a fair trial. An exception was in the case of a Dalit named Surinder Koli. He might have been executed by now in connection with the Nithari killings, which were serial murders in 2005 that took place just outside New Delhi, had the Allahabad High Court chief justice DY Chandrachud not entertained an appeal on a technicality, leading to commutation. The Supreme Court had thrown out Koli’s appeals, including the very last one, at which Ram Jethmalani appeared pro bono to argue that the convict had received a shoddy trial.

In the eyes of some, the current Supreme Court Chief Justice, HL Dattu, is what in American parlance would be called a “hanging judge”.

Chatterjee framed?

As for Dhananjay Chatterjee’s execution, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, a four-decades-old New Delhi-based volunteer outfit, put out a statement earlier this month based on an analysis by two scholars from the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, arguing that the guard was framed.

The analysis by Debashish Sengupta and Prabal Chaudhury, timed to coincide with the Law Commission’s Public Hearing on the death penalty in New Delhi on Saturday, July 11, described what they believe was a botched investigation. They also highlighted inconsistencies in the evidence and pointed to fictitious claims, all aimed, they say, to frame Chatterjee.

The two scholars noted that a police witness in court denied having seen Chatterjee at the victim’s flat. The police seizure list was signed by someone who supplied tea to the police and did not turn up in court. The antecedents of some items presented as incriminating evidence, such as a necklace and a watch, were never checked. The trial court failed to question why no murder weapon was recovered and why there was no blood on Chatterjee’s clothes even though there were 21 stab wounds on the victim’s body.

While the crime was said to have been committed in a short window between 5:20 pm and 5:50 pm, when Hetal Parekh’s mother was out of the flat, there was a three-hour delay before the police were called – ample time for tampering with the evidence. The Parekh family members’ statements were inconsistent, and the family soon wrapped up its thriving jewellery business and left Kolkata, raising the possibility of an honour killing, the scholars contend. A letter written by the victim’s father alleging that Chatterjee used to harass his daughter, which was used by the police to establish a motive, seems to have been written after the crime, the scholars say.

Guilt must be established

Criminal convictions and sentencing ought to follow only when guilt has been established “beyond reasonable doubt”. But Indian courts routinely convict and pass harsh sentences, including the death penalty, on poor defendants who are badly represented in court. Gaping holes and inconsistencies in evidence are ignored. At the appeals stage, new evidence is not entertained, leading to numerous innocent people languishing in jail, including on death row.

Chatterjee had spent 14 years in jail before he was hanged. He was thus punished twice for a crime he likely did not commit, going by the Kolkata scholars’ analysis, for the mere fault of being too poor to engage a competent lawyer.

While the Parekh family members were media-shy following the gruesome crime, the media never attempted to track them down to question them about their inconsistent statements even when Chatterjee was about to be hanged in 2004. It is not as if the Indian media lack the resources or the ingenuity to do so. Two months ago, after the death of Aruna Shanbaug, the nurse who was in a vegetative state for 42 years, journalists traced the man who was convicted of having sexually assaulted her in 1973 to a village in Uttar Pradesh.

Will the Indian media take steps at least now to re-examine the evidence in the Dhananjay Chatterjee case and demand that the judiciary reconsider its verdict? 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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Han Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.