RS passes bill amending POCSO Act: A look back at case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, last murderer-rapist to be hanged in country

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. During the debate on the bill, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani told the Rajya Sabha that over six lakh sexual offenders have been registered under the National Sexual Offenders Registry (NSOR) in India.

The bill amends the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The Act seeks to protect children from offences such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.

The bill is set to introduce the possibility of capital punishment for a person using a child for pornographic purposes resulting in aggravated penetrative sexual assault. It has also introduced the possibility of death penalty for aggravated penetrative sexual assault.

Long before the enactment of the POCSO Act in 2012, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was the last Indian citizen to be hanged in a case which involved rape. The execution took place in 2004.

 RS passes bill amending POCSO Act: A look back at case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, last murderer-rapist to be hanged in country

Representational image. Reuters

Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a security guard in Kolkata, was hanged on the charges of murdering a 14-year-old girl in her apartment in Bhowanipore on 5 March 1990. He was also convicted for raping her. The death penalty awarded to Chatterjee was executed at Alipore Central Jail in 2004.

Chatterjee was the last murderer-rapist to be hanged in the country. However, it is important to note that the death penalty was for the offence of murder, and not rape. Three subsequent death sentences were executed in the country, but these were for terrorism-related offences, the convicts being Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon.

'Circumstantial evidence'

Legal activists had argued that Chatterjee had been convicted on the basis of dubious eyewitness accounts and weak circumstantial evidence.

According to a report in The Indian Express, prior to the crime, the victim's parents had gone out and left the keys with Chatterjee, instructing him to hand them over to the minor when she returned from school. But according to the police, after handing over the keys, Chatterjee followed her inside the apartment, where she was raped and murdered.

The victim's mother is said to have gone to a temple for about half an hour, when the crime is said to have taken place. During that period, a supervisor had called out to Chatterjee, who had leaned out of the third-floor balcony of the minor's house to answer. However, a report in The Quint has argued that it is unlikely that a person who had just committed a rape and murder would find the time to dress up and casually lean out of a balcony, giving himself away. The article also points out that one of the witnesses, a liftman who had earlier said that he had dropped Chatterjee to the third floor, later turned hostile midway through his testimony.

Legal process

The Alipore Sessions Court had awarded Chatterjee with life imprisonment for rape and death sentence for murder. The sentence was upheld both by the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court. Chatterjee subsequently filed mercy petitions with the state governor and the President, but these were rejected.

In September 2003, his petition for commutation of his sentence owing to the delay in its execution was quashed by the high court, and Chatterjee appealed to the Supreme Court. In February the Supreme Court referred his mercy petition to the governor for reconsideration. The governor once again rejected the petition.

While numerous human rights organisations and non-governmental organisations had voiced their concerns over the capital punishment, several people had spoken out in favour of the death sentence.

"(The victim) 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 the victim was a student, had told Frontline.

A still from Dhananjoy. Screen grab via YouTube.

A still from Dhananjoy. Screen grab via YouTube.

'Dhananjay - the film'

Thirteen years after Chatterjee's hanging, Kolkata-based filmmaker Arindam Sil rekindled the issue through his film — Dhananjoy.

Sil had stated that film was a work of fiction inspired by the incident of Dhananjoy Chatterjee's hanging. Speaking to Scoopwhoop, he said, "This was the first hanging for rape-murder where not one direct evidence was present. Most of it was inconclusive, circumstantial evidence and it was strange how the execution was carried out on such flimsy evidence."

In an interview with Scroll.in Sil had said, "Everybody chanted, he is Dhananjoy, he is a rapist, kill him...There was no semen found in the vagina, no tissue culture was done. There were a series of serious lapses and this family had no money to fight till the Supreme Court."

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 25, 2019 17:31:24 IST