This article is authored by Akash Krishnan, a law student from ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad. It discusses in detail what happened in the case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the questions that remain unanswered to date and what could be done in future to avoid the mistakes committed therein.
Dhananjoy Chatterjee was a security guard who was convicted for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old schoolgirl. The case was termed as a ‘rarest of rare’ case and capital punishment was issued against Dhananjoy Chatterjee. He was hanged 14 years after his conviction and his last words were “I am innocent”.
Why did a simple security guard commit such a heinous crime? Why has this case sparked a controversy? Why did Dhananjoy Chatterjee plead innocence till his very last breath? Was he really innocent? Did the judicial system in India fail him? All these questions have been analysed in-depth and answered in this article. Read along to get an in-depth perspective of this controversial case.
Facts of the case
- The appellant herein was an employee of the Security and Investigating Bureau and was posted as a security guard of Anand Apartments. The victim, Hatel, an 18-year-old schoolgirl complained to her mother on several occasions that the appellant used to tease her on her way to school and also had asked her out to accompany him to a movie.
- These actions were reported to the employer through a written complaint. In furtherance of the same, the appellant was transferred to another building by the employer. This transfer was scheduled to take place on 5th March 1990. However, on that day, the appellant did not report to the new apartment but continued at his post at Anand Apartments from 06:00 AM to 02:00 PM.
- On 5th March 1990, the victim’s father left the house for his office and her brother left the house for college and the victim for her school. She returned home in the afternoon at around 01:00 PM. Her mother left for a nearby temple in the evening around 5:30 PM leaving the victim alone at home.
- After the victim’s mother left for the temple, the appellant reached the victim’s apartment and told the security guard posted there that he wanted to go to the victim’s flat for contacting the employer and the guard allowed him to go to the victim’s flat.
- The employer visited Anand Apartments at around 05:45 PM to enquire if the new guard had taken up his post in the morning. However, he was informed otherwise by the residents. On enquiry, he came to know that the appellant had gone to the victim’s flat. He asked the security guard at the victim’s apartment to call him out and when his name was called out aloud, he appeared on the balcony of the victim’s flat and answered that he was coming down.
- The appellant came down in a while and insisted on talking to the employer outside the gate. He then stated that he had some personal difficulties due to which he could not obey the transfer. The employer ordered him to obey the transfer the next day.
- When the victim’s mother returned, she was informed that the appellant had entered her flat. She repeatedly rang the bell but there was no answer. She raised the alarm and soon the door was broken.
- The victim was found in her bedroom in a bloodied state. Her dress was torn and there were marks of violence on her body and private parts. Soon a doctor was summoned and she was declared dead.
- The victim’s father reported the incident to the police 3 hours after the incident and investigation began thereafter. Several pieces of evidence were collected from the bedroom. The post-mortem report of the deceased recorded the reason for death as smothering with strangulation.
- The search for the appellant began soon after and he was arrested after 7 days, i.e., on 12th March 1990. The clothes that he had worn at the time of the commission of offence were recovered from him. Also, a wristwatch stolen from the victim’s apartment was recovered from his possession.
- At the trial, he claimed innocence and alleged false implications. He stated that he had left for his village on 5th March to attend a ceremony for his younger brother. There was no eye-witness of the rape and murder.
Observations of the Trial Court and the High Court
Both the Trial Court and the High Court went on to hold that the circumstantial evidence and the pieces of evidence recovered from the place of the appellant and the victims house conclusively establish the guilt of the appellant. The Trial Court sentenced the appellant to capital punishment. This sentence was confirmed by the High Court.
Observations of the Supreme Court
- In cases that are based on circumstantial evidence, motive should be established beyond any doubt.
- The appellant used to tease the victim time and again and she had complained the same to her mother. A written complaint was made by the victim’s father to the employer as well informing him of the same due to which the employer ordered the transfer of the appellant.
- These facts clearly establish a motive on part of the accused to commit a crime of such nature against the victim.
- The appellant stated that he was at his village for a ceremony and therefore has an alibi. This argument was rejected because the alibi in question was a post-alibi, i.e., an alibi for a time after the occurrence of the incident.
- At the time of the incident, multiple witnesses had confirmed that the appellant was present at the victim’s apartment and the security guard of the victim’s apartment, the employer and the lift operator of the victim’s apartment were eyewitnesses to the same.
- Thus, it was concluded that the appellant was present at the victim’s apartment at the time of the commission of the offence.
Evidence recovered from the appellant and the victim’s house
- A yellow button was recovered from the victim’s apartment. Eye-witnesses had stated that the appellant was wearing a yellow shirt on the date of the incident. The same outfit was recovered from the appellant when he was arrested. An expert was appointed by the Court to examine the same and it was confirmed by the expert that the button was part of the shirt of the appellant.
- The wristwatch that was stolen from the house of the victim was found in his possession at the time of the arrest.
Conclusiveness of the circumstantial evidence
The circumstances in question clearly establish the guilt of the appellant. The chain of evidence suggests only one possible outcome, i.e., the appellant is guilty of the offence of rape and murder of the victim.
- The punishment for any offence should depend on three factors:
- The degree of atrocity involved in the commission of the crime
- The conduct of the offender
- The defenceless and unprotected state of the victim
- The duty of a security guard is to protect the residents of the building, but instead, the appellant herein chose to gratify his lust and murder the victim. The nature of injuries suffered by the victim and the defenceless state of the victim shows the degree of atrocity involved in the crime.
- The appellant had pre-planned the entire crime and murdered the defenceless victim in cold blood. Thus, the case falls under the scope of ‘rarest of rare’ case and thus capital punishment is an appropriate punishment.
The hanging of the Appellant
After serving 14 years in prison, the appellant was hanged in 2004. According to Mr. Nata Mullick, the person who hanged the appellant, the last words uttered by him were “Ami Nirdosh. Amake mere phelchhe sab”, i.e., I am innocent. They are all killing me.
Anomalies in the case
The People’s Union for Democratic Rights published a Report in 2015, wherein Dhananjoy’s side of the story was brought to light and the anomalies in the investigation and the judgement were discussed. The relevant portions of the Report are discussed below:
The post-mortem report had recorded evidence of strong resistance by the victim. Injuries and blood on the hand of the victim suggested that she had attacked her attacker. However, when Dhananjoy had come out of the victim’s apartment to meet the employer, none of the witnesses saw any signs of struggle on his body. There were neither scratches or bloodstains on his face or body nor was his appearance dishevelled.
Also, there were no bloodstains that were visible on his outfit even though the victim’s body was covered in blood. The forensic expert who had examined the shirt had reported that there were no traces of blood on his shirt or pants.
The fingerprints of the Dhananjoy were neither recovered from any part of the victim’s apartment nor from the body or outfit of the victim.
The liftman denied in Court that he had taken Dhananjoy to the third floor where the victim’s apartment was located. The security guard of the building also did not see him enter the building. Although he was seen later in the balcony of the victim’s flat, there was no witness to corroborate as to when he entered the flat and for what time duration he was in the flat.
Regarding Dhananjoy showing up on the balcony, the security guard had stated that he called Dhananjoy out to the balcony at 5:45 PM. However, the liftman had stated that he had seen Dhananjoy going down the stairs at the exact same time. However, initially, the liftman had concurred with the statement of the security guard. The liftman had later turned hostile. Thus, both these statements were in contradiction to each other but were still admitted by the Court. The Court also failed to examine the reason behind the liftman turning hostile. Another point for consideration was that the balcony area did not overlook the security post of the guard.
Non-examination of a crucial witness
The entire proceedings were focused on Dhananjoy and the fact that he did not comply with the transfer order. However, Mr. Bijoy, who was supposed to replace Dhananjoy as the security guard at Anand Apartments never showed up. The reason for his non-compliance with the transfer order and his alibi at the time of the commission of the offence was not taken into consideration by any Court.
The mother of the victim
According to the testimonies of the security guard and the victim’s mother, she had left the apartment at 05:20 PM. However, the liftman gave a contradictory statement that he had escorted her at around 04:10 PM. This contradiction was also ignored by the Courts.
Time of the commission of the offence
According to the witness testimonies, Dhananjoy entered the building around 5:25 PM and left around 5:45 PM. At this time, he also appeared on the balcony and spoke to the security guard. Thus, he only had less than 20 minutes to enter the apartment, overpower the victim and commit the offence, steal the said wristwatch, tidy himself and leave without a scratch.
The possibility of whether or not someone else was present at the scene of the crime was not examined. Also, the manner in which he appeared on the balcony and then outside did not indicate any form of struggle.
Validity of the motive
The prosecution had established the motive on two grounds, i.e., the constant teasing of the victim by Dhananjoy and the transfer order issued against him. However, if that was the case, why would someone who was driven by lust and revenge, stop and take time to steal the wristwatch from the almirah of the victim’s apartment. Also, the Court failed to note that the watch was not recovered on his body at the time of arrest but was recovered from his residence on the date of arrest. Also, if he had indeed committed the crime, why would he store the clothes in which he had committed the offence. Both these questions were not answered by any of the Courts.
Non-examination of forensic evidence
The forensic evidence stated that semen stains were found on the undergarments and pubic hair of the victim. However, no steps were taken to examine if the semen stains actually belonged to Dhananjoy. Also, the blood report of the crime scene noted that the blood found on the scene did not belong to Dhananjoy. No DNA tests were conducted to establish whether or not Dhananjoy had committed the rape.
The post-mortem report
The post-mortem report did state that there was sexual intercourse but there were no injuries in and around the private parts of the victim that proved forced sexual intercourse.
Other arguments that were not considered by the Court
The question as to how Dhananjoy entered the flat and how was the door closed from inside when he left the flat remained unanswered. Also, the question as to why would the victim allow a man who harassed her frequently into the house was not answered.
The company time and again issued transfer orders. However, the employer never went to check whether or not the guards complied with such orders. Why an exception was made in this case remained unanswered.
Dhananjoy had made a complaint to the supervisor regarding an affair that the security guard had with the maidservant of the building. This could have tipped in favour of the security guard making a statement against Dhananjoy. This conflict of interest was not considered.
The question as to why Dhananjoy was allowed to go to the apartment was not examined. The reason behind allowing Dhananjoy to go to the third floor to make a call was not looked into.
An alternative theory
The mother of the victim, as a routine, went to the temple every day around 5:30 PM. However, according to the statement of the liftman, she left around 4:10 PM that day. On coming back, and finding no response to the doorbell, she did not attempt to contact her daughter through telephone or intercom. She raised the alarm and when the door was broken, she dragged her daughter to the lift on her own to take her to a doctor, even though she was already dead. She failed to inform the police about the incident and it was her husband, who came back home after 3 hours who informed the police. After the trial began, she left the state and failed to show up for the trial several times. Soon after, her brother and father also left the place even though they had a settled business there.
The post-mortem report did not suggest rape but only indicated sexual intercourse and since there were no injuries on the private parts, this sexual intercourse could have been consensual. The crime scene was disturbed by the mother by dragging her daughter and then again placing her back on the bed and covering her with the bloodied bedsheet.
The Report suggests that there could be involvement of her mother in the crime for entering into a consensual sexual relationship with Dhananjoy. The entire story regarding complaints made by her daughter could never be corroborated as there was no evidence for the same. The written complaint that was submitted to the employer was never produced before the Court. Initial media reports suggested that only an oral complaint was made in this regard and no report as to the complaint being recorded was produced before the court.
What do we learn from this case
The Court had failed to establish the guilt of Dhananjoy beyond reasonable doubt and passed the judgement on circumstantial evidence. Several important pieces of evidence, including those of DNA evidence, were left unexamined by the Court. Before the crime was committed, the father of the victim had spoken ill about Dhananjoy on multiple occasions to the neighbours without giving any reasons. The Court failed to consider the possibility of another angle to the case.
What is to be noted is that if the Court had considered all the evidence properly, there could be a chance that Dhananjoy would have been declared innocent. The principle of the Indian judiciary that even if 100 criminals go free, one innocent person should not suffer should take precedence in such cases. The importance of collecting and examining evidence properly is one of the main learnings that can be taken from this case. Also, the delay in calling the police could have led to some of the evidence being tampered with.
Thus, to conclude, one may never know whether or not Dhananjoy committed the crime. But what one can say without any doubt is that proper procedure was not followed during his trial. It is very important that even in the most heinous crimes, the accused gets a chance to represent himself in a fair manner and the Courts apply their judicial minds to probe the crime to its finest details before coming to a conclusion.
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