In 2012, streets and campuses across India erupted with protests over the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi. Eight years later, four convicts are scheduled to be hanged on March 20 – the fourth date in less than three months.
Apart from commentary on the perceived delay in the hanging, public attention has been focused on the man who will hang Mukesh Kumar Singh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Kumar Singh. Reports suggest that Pawan Jallad has been requisitioned from Meerut Jail. Jallad will conduct mock executions before carrying out the actual deed, according to Economic Times.
The public’s grisly fascination with the hangings is not too different from the clamour that surrounded the trial of Dhananjoy Chatterjee. He was convicted in 1991 for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman in Kolkata, and was hanged to death on August 14, 2004, on his 39th birthday. Chatterjee protested his innocence throughout the trial, and doubts have since been raised about the evidence that led to his conviction.
Joshy Joseph’s 2005 documentary One Day From A Hangman’s Life follows Chatterjee’s executioner, Nata Mullick. As the trial played out, Mullick, who came from a long line of hangmen, had become a minor celebrity in his own right. Reporters thronged his house for details and demonstrations of the execution. The accidental deaths of half a dozen children in Bengal following Chatterjee’s execution were attributed to Mullick’s on-camera demonstration of how to tie a “good noose.”
Joseph’s film, which has been produced by Drik India, follows Nata as he goes about his day, switching between anxiety and nonchalance, offering prayers to the gods, giving sound bites, and occasionally reprimanding reporters for disturbing his peace of mind. Joseph compels viewers to reflect on their own voyeurism. Even as he violates Nata’s privacy, Joseph implicates himself and, by extension, viewers, by unsparingly chasing, in Nata’s words, “every inch of footage”.
Nata speaks of his job without frills or exaggerated emotions, and also reveal his worries about his grandchildren’s future and the impending execution. “Until I get drunk, I can’t erase his [Chatterjee’s] face,” he tells Joseph. After the execution, Joseph tells us, Nata fainted and had to be rushed to a hospital.
Nata’s own stand on capital punishment remains unclear. He delivers fiery monologues on Chatterjee’s alleged crime and describes the execution as a “duty” to be followed on state orders. At one point, Nata turns to Joseph and asks “Right dialogues for your film?” – a cheeky rebuke, but also an acknowledgement that what we’re seeing is partly a performance for the camera.
Nata’s son, Mahadeb Mullick, now carries forward the “family tradition.” In the documentary, Mahadeb Mullick acts as Joseph’s ally in transgressing Nata’s boundaries. According to a BBC report from 2010, Mahadeb Mullick is now among the country’s last hangmen. “After my father carried out his last hanging, none of the authorities came to our house to find out how we were living. Nobody cares,” he told BBC.