Indian literati call for end to executions as hangman is brought out of retirement

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Indian intellectuals and literati are leading protests against capital punishment after a hangman came out of retirement to prepare for the first execution in Calcutta for more than a decade

Indian intellectuals and literati are leading protests against capital punishment after a hangman came out of retirement to prepare for the first execution in Calcutta for more than a decade

Dhananjoy Chatterjee is due to be executed for raping a 14-year-old girl and then smothering her to death in 1990.

Seven members of the condemned man's family will commit suicide if the sentence is carried out, his elderly father threatened yesterday.

A host of leading Indians have spoken out against the impending execution, including the writers Mahasveta Devi and Narayan Sanyal, the dramatist Bibhas Chakraborty and the historian Gautam Bhadra. None has expressed any doubt about Chatterjee's guilt, but they have spoken out against the principle of the death penalty.

Mrinal Sen, a film director, said: "The fact remains that the crime was very serious and I've nothing but contempt for such a crime. However, punishment by death is no answer."

Sunil Ganguly, a popular Bengali writer, said: "My view is that capital punishment should be abolished because it's barbaric. The law should find out some other strong punishment for this kind of crime."

"The man should be given the severest punishment, other than death," said Aparna Sen, a film director and former actress. "I'm against capital punishment because violence cannot be met with violence."

The man putting Chatterjee to death will be Nata Malik, who last tightened the noose in 1991, when he executed two men for murdering four members of a family. Hangings are rare in India and official executioners hard to come by.

The government had originally contacted a hangman in Delhi, who, besides asking for an astronomical sum to carry out the execution, demanded an air ticket and luxurious accommodation. So Mr Malik was persuaded to return to the gallows. He agreed to do so only on condition that the government find a job for his grandson Prabhat Malik, 19.

The government obliged and the younger Malik will now work as the government's hangman whenever required.

The jail and social welfare department has made it clear that Prabhat Malik will now have to travel throughout West Bengal to carry out a hangman's duties. He will be paid the same as his grandfather for each execution - 10,000 rupees (£120).

Nata Malik said: "Had the government refused my grandson a job, I would never have agreed to come out of retirement and carry out the execution."

But Prabhat's career might be a short one. Even the state secretary of the ruling communist party in West Bengal, Anil Biswas, has come out against the death sentence. "I don't know much about law," he said, "but in several countries, capital punishment has been prohibited. Why not here in India?"

The family of Hetal Parekh, the girl Chatterjee was convicted of raping and murdering, said the death sentence was justified and called for it to be implemented. "I have suffered a lot," said her father, Nagardas. "I have lost everything in my life. The man who carried out the crime should be hanged."

Although India's Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that capital punishment should only be used in "the rarest of rare cases", a number of executions continue to be carried out.

The most notorious execution in India was that of Nathuram Godse, the man convicted of assassinating Mahatma Gandhi, who was left suspended from the rope for 15 minutes before he died in a bungled hanging.

Godse was executed despite the fact that Gandhi had spoken out against capital punishment, saying: "I cannot in all conscience agree to anyone being sent to the gallows. God alone can take life because he alone gives it."

The men convicted of assassinating Indira Gandhi in 1984 were also executed.

This weekend's execution will supposedly be the first in West Bengal since 1991. But precise figures on how many people are sentenced to death in India each year, and how many sentences are carried out, are hard to obtain, according to the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre in Delhi. The centre saysthe Indian authorities "don't collect the information on purpose".

From its own research, the centre says about 12 death sentences are handed down every year in India, although it is not clear how many are carried out.

Local sessions courts can impose death sentences in India for the most serious crimes, including murder.

There is an appeals process. After he was convicted in 1994, Chatterjee, who worked as a security guard in the apartment building where his victim's family lived, took his appeal to the Supreme Court in Delhi, where he lost.

He asked the Indian President, A P J Abdul Kalam, for clemency, but his plea was rejected.

The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, a human rights group based in Calcutta, had also appealed to the president to commute Chatterjee's punishment.