Calcutta, Aug. 14: Thirteen long years for death to come, 40 brief seconds to get it over with.
At 6.30 this morning, the inspector general of police, jails, Joydeb Chakraborty, issued a brief written statement: “The execution of death sentence of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, alias Dhana, has been duly carried out at 4.30 hours.”
Within moments, a hearse carrying Dhananjoy’s body raced to Keoratala burning ghat where he was cremated by the Hindu Satkar Samity. A jail doctor said he had “hung for precisely 40 seconds, before life had ebbed out of him”.
Dhananjoy’s family stayed away, refusing to accept the reality of his death and his body.
Sentenced to death in 1991 for raping and killing 14-year-old Hetal Parekh, Dhananjoy sat up the night in his Alipore Central Jail cell, refusing to even lie down to try to sleep. “With death so near, I might as well stay up in my last hours,” he told warders.
Head tucked in between his knees, all night he listened to songs sung by a section of the jail staff.
“We were singing Rabindrasangeet and popular songs of Kishore Kumar,” said a warder. “Since Dhananjoy would not or was unable to sleep, we thought the best thing would be to keep him distracted with songs he enjoyed listening.”
As the clock struck three, the countdown began. Jail officials entered Dhananjoy’s cell and told him it was time to get “ready”: bathe and put on the new pair of pyjamas and a fatua (vest) before taking the walk to the gallows.
Wash over, Dhananjoy prayed briefly, “drawing strength for the final moment”. Then he got up and told the officials he was ready to meet his fate. But the time was not right yet.
“Dhananjoy had drawn strength from the music and from the picture of Ma Kali on the cell’s wall,” a jail official said. “That’s why he suddenly got up and told us to lead him to the gallows, fearing his courage might betray him later.”
Dhananjoy had to wait another half-hour before his last journey down the corridors. As the minutes ticked away, he suddenly burst into tears, fearing not for himself but for his wife.
But he composed himself quickly and stepped out of the cell where Chakraborty, DIG (prisons) Ramapada Bhattacharya, jail superintendent Ranjit Mondal and other officials were waiting. Shaking hands with them, he asked forgiveness for anything he might have done in 14 years to trouble them.
Turning to Chakraborty, he made a final attempt to clear his name: “I will be gone but at least for the sake of my family please do something to clear my name; I am innocent.”
Putting his hands to his back, he next turned to the jailors and gestured that he be handcuffed. With two guards in front and two behind, he then began his last walk, stealing one last look at the cell that had been his home for 14 years.
Suddenly, he broke into song. “Chalte, chalte, mere yeh geet yaad rakhna...”, he sang as he walked, exhorting jail officials to sing with him. Many joined in.
By the time he finished, he was facing the noose. As a last wish, he asked that he be allowed to touch jail doctor Basudeb Mukherjee’s feet.
Then he handed himself over to Nata Mullick.