When the bell tolled for Dhananjoy...was it the end?

When the bell tolled for Dhananjoy...was it the end?

Nata Mullick

The late Nata Mullick, the last hangman to execute a hanging in India, muttered these words as he slipped a black hood on the head of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the rapist and murderer of a 14-year-old girl, and the killer was hanged to death on August 14, 2004 at the Alipore Central Jail in Kolkata.

Mullick, whose father Shibal Mullick was a hangman in the British colonial days, took over the reins from his father and had the experience of hanging 24 convicts in over six decades.

Since the hanging of Dhananjoy, more than 30 sentences of execution have been pronounced and all of them have either been awaiting the government green signal or the outcome of clemency petitions filed with the President of India.

With Kasab being condemned to the gallows and demand for his execution becoming louder, one is tempted into a throwback to the recent past when Dhananjoy had faced the noose. A section of the jail staff who got familiar with the convict during his last days in the high security jail, loathe having to recollect some of the intimate moments they had shared with Chatterjee.

Nevertheless, after slight persuasion, one of them opened up. “After he heard the bad news from us, Dhananjoy slumped, resting against the wall of the prison cell. He did not touch his lunch…He was crying and cast a blank look at the ceiling for long. As the time passed, he murmured he felt the stalking of death closer," recalled a jail staff. His concern was more for his father, mother and wife, especially in the wake of the self-immolation threat by the parents.

“The convict asked for a post-card after hearing the last word, saying he would write to his parents and wife. On getting the post-card and pen, he began writing. But it was clear his mind was in turmoil and he battled hard to keep his torment to himself,” the staff narrated on condition of anonymity.

Under the existing rules, the jail personnel guarding a condemned convict are not allowed to speak to the media unless authorised by higher officials.

Unfinished letter

A severely shaken Dhananjoy ultimately could not finish his letter to his parents, asking for their pardon. Moved by his plight, the jail officials did their best to lighten his psychological trauma and invited him to have lunch with the welfare officer, whom he called “Elder sister”. In fact, it was a humane interaction between him and the jail officials, who sort of egged him on to take food and calm down.

“I have been seeing you for a long time. It feels nice to have lunch with you today," Dhananjoy said, seeking to suppress his agony as he lunched with the jail staff. The lunch menu included various Bengali delicacies that took care of his every wish. "The mood was as if a guest was leaving the household after staying for a long time," the welfare officer was quoted as saying.

Recalling the plight of Dhananjoy's father, one of the staff said the priest father invoked goddess Kali for some miracle to save his son.“You’ll see, the hangman’s noose will tear at the last moment,” was what he was expecting to happen, though it did not.

Last minute appeal

Even 24 hours before the hanging, his wife Purnima dashed off a fax to then President A P J Abdul Kalam: “Your Honour, I am a poor woman, I beseech you to save my husband from hanging…I have no children, please spare a thought as to how I would lead the rest of my life without my husband.”

The letter focused on the dilemma of his brothers on whether to accept his body after the hanging. It also mentioned the convict’s last wish to donate his body for medical use.

However, a health department official pointed out that the kidneys of a hanged person could not be used for transplant.

The day of the execution was touching. His reading of the Chandi and chanting of Gayatri Mantras surprised the jail officials. Dhananjoy had been listening to songs continuously from the day before. All kinds of songs. In between, he requested the jail staff to play Tagore’s song, “This weariness, forgive me O my Lord”.

Stoic resignation

As the stipulated time advanced, he apparently grew more stoic and requested the prison officials to complete all the rituals of death. “Give me water now, let me take a bath. It’s almost time.”

After taking bath, he read the Gita for half-an-hour, took tea and said, “I’m ready. Do whatever you have to, quickly. Forgive me if I’ve done any wrong. There are many criminals, I’m hanged because I’m poor.”

Finally, in white kurta-pyjama, Dhananjoy walked to his death; his last words before the noose tightened:" I am innocent, God bless you." Dhananjoy in his last wish wanted to donate his eyes and kidneys to poor patients. While kidneys were ruled out, his wish to donate his body to any hospital went unheeded.

"We  had tried to honour his wish, but the problem was that there was nothing specific in the Jail Code about this," an official said. Thus came to an end the tragic tale of a criminal; but what about the end of the crime for which Dhananjoy had to face the gallows?

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