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'Hang him and save our daughters'
M Chhaya in Kolkata |
June 30, 2004 17:12 IST
For Hetal Parekh, March 5, 1990 began like any other day.
The 14-year-old woke up early and got ready for school. Before leaving home, her mother blessed her and wished her luck because she had an examination.
Around 4.30 pm, she was back home, happy that her exam had gone off well (she said so to one of her neighbours). Her parents were not home and she waited for them to return.
Speak Up: Should Dhananjoy Chatterjee be hanged
But, the girl had little idea that she had already seen the last of her parents. In a short while from then, Parekh, for all her youth and vibrancy, dreams and enthusiasm, lay dead -- raped and then smothered.
The incident sent a chill down the spine of many Kolkatans, especially because the heinous act had been committed by the security guard of the building where the Parekhs used to live.
After 14 years of legalities, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the perpetrator of the crime, was sentenced to death by hanging. Even the President refused to remit his punishment.
However, Chatterjee, who has all along pleaded not guilty, has won a brief reprieve as President A P J Abdul Kalam considers for a second time a clemency petition reportedly signed by some top Bengali intellectuals who are against capital punishment.
But, most mothers in the city want to see Chatterjee dead.
"I speak on behalf of all mothers and daughters. We want this man to be hanged without any further delay," said Madhabi Mukherjee, eminent Bengali actress.
Mukherjee is among over 60 per cent Kolkatans who aren't willing to spare Chatterjee's life. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has said his government recommends death for the rapist-murderer.
Even the chief minister's wife Meera and daughter Suchetana have begun campaigning in favour of the convict's death.
"Hang him to save our daughters," Meera Bhattacharya said at a meeting organised by a voluntary organisation that wants the capital punishment to be carried out.
"We would like to ask the intellectuals who are speaking of remitting that beast's sentence if they didn't hear Hetal Parekh's cries for help," said Rupa Ganguly, another actress who spoke at the same forum.
Parekh's neighbours have begun collecting signatures to be sent to President Kalam urging him to once more turn down Chatterjee's clemency plea.
"The girl lay on the floor with hardly anything on her…it was an awful sight. This was around 6 pm, I still remember," said Utpal Roy, one of the Parekhs' neighbours.
"She was such a lively girl. She told me that evening she had given a good exam," said Kajal Bagchi, a friend of Parekh's mother.
"We want to tell the President that if he had heard Hetal's mother cry and her father turn dumb in grief, if only he had seen how the family remained a bundle of nerves after the incident, he would not have thought about stalling the hanging," said Mahendrabhai, Hetal's uncle.
The school where Parekh studied is holding special prayers for her and hoping that Chatterjee would hang for his crimes.
"The stay order [on the hanging] is shocking. When Hetal was crying for mercy, did anybody hear her? We thought she would get justice," said Gillian Rosemary Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith School, where Parekh studied.
But, those opposing capital punishment, say death doesn't necessarily prove to be an effective deterrent against crime. "I'm against capital punishment because violence can not be met with violence," said eminent actress-turned-director Aparna Sen.
Popular Bengali writer Sunil Ganguly too thought so: "My view is that capital punishment should be abolished because it's barbaric."
Noted filmmaker Mrinal Sen was among the first few to write to President Kalam urging him to do away with the death sentence and grant his pardon to Chatterjee.
"Some of us had appealed to the President against capital punishment and had appealed for his clemency for the death-row convict," Mrinal Sen said. "But, 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."
But, away from this debate about the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent for crimes, not much is known about the emotions of the victim's family.
The Parekhs left the city after the incident and now live in Mumbai. Another family occupies their apartment.
But, last year when the Supreme Court had upheld Chatterjee's death punishment, the girl's family had said they now hoped that her soul would rest in peace.