The Dhananjoy Chatterjee Case: A Landmark in Indian Legal History
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The Dhananjoy Chatterjee Case: A Landmark in Indian Legal History

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The Dhananjoy Chatterjee case remains one of the most controversial and debated criminal cases in India. Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a security guard, was convicted for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old schoolgirl. Capital punishment was issued against him, and he was hanged 14 years after his conviction. However, questions surrounding his guilt, the conduct of the investigation, and the judicial process have sparked a heated controversy. In this article, we will delve into the facts of the case, examine the observations of the trial court and the high court, explore the anomalies in the case, and analyze the arguments put forth by both sides. Let us explore this case in-depth to gain a comprehensive understanding.

Facts of the Case

The appellant, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, was employed as a security guard at Anand Apartments. The victim, an 18-year-old schoolgirl named Hatel, had complained to her mother about the appellant's repeated teasing and unwanted advances. A written complaint was made to the employer, who subsequently ordered the appellant's transfer to another building. On the day of the incident, the appellant did not report to the new apartment but continued his duty at Anand Apartments.

On March 5, 1990, the victim's father, brother, and the victim herself left the house for work and school, respectively. The victim returned home in the afternoon, and her mother left for a nearby temple in the evening, leaving the victim alone at home. It was during this time that the appellant entered the victim's apartment under the pretext of contacting the employer. The appellant was seen by the employer when he visited the apartment, and he ordered the appellant to obey the transfer the next day. When the victim's mother returned home, she found the door locked and raised an alarm. The victim was found in her bloodied bedroom and was pronounced dead by a doctor.

The appellant was arrested seven days after the incident, and various pieces of evidence were recovered from him, including the stolen wristwatch. During the trial, the appellant claimed innocence and alleged false implications. The case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, as there were no eyewitnesses to the rape and murder.

Observations of the Trial Court and the High Court

Both the Trial Court and the High Court held that the circumstantial evidence and the evidence recovered from the appellant and the victim's house conclusively established the appellant's guilt. The Trial Court sentenced him to capital punishment, which was subsequently confirmed by the High Court.

Observations of the Supreme Court


In cases based on circumstantial evidence, establishing a motive beyond any doubt is crucial. In this case, the appellant's repeated teasing of the victim and her complaints to her mother and the employer established a motive for the crime. The transfer order issued against the appellant further reinforced his motive to commit such a heinous act.


The appellant claimed that he was in his village attending a ceremony for his younger brother on the day of the incident. However, multiple witnesses testified that the appellant was present at the victim's apartment during the time of the crime. The appellant's alibi was considered a post-alibi, as it accounted for his whereabouts after the incident rather than during the crime. The Court concluded that the appellant was indeed present at the victim's apartment when the offense was committed.

Evidence Recovered

Several pieces of evidence were recovered that linked the appellant to the crime. A yellow button found at the victim's apartment matched the shirt the appellant was seen wearing on the day of the incident. Additionally, the stolen wristwatch was recovered from the appellant at the time of his arrest. These pieces of evidence further supported the prosecution's case against the appellant.

Conclusiveness of Circumstantial Evidence

The circumstances surrounding the case, combined with the evidence recovered, pointed to the appellant's guilt. The chain of evidence left little room for any other possible outcome. The Court found the appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the circumstantial evidence presented.

Death Penalty

The Court considered the degree of atrocity involved in the crime, the conduct of the offender, and the defenseless state of the victim in determining the appropriate punishment. The appellant, as a security guard, had a duty to protect the residents of the building. Instead, he chose to commit a heinous act of rape and murder. The nature of the injuries sustained by the victim and her defenseless state further highlighted the brutality of the crime. Given these factors, the Court deemed the case a "rarest of rare" case, justifying the imposition of capital punishment.

The Hanging of the Appellant

After serving 14 years in prison, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged in 2004. His last words, "Ami Nirdosh. Amake mere phelchhe sab" (I am innocent. They are all killing me), reiterated his claim of innocence.

Anomalies in the Case

The People's Union for Democratic Rights published a report in 2015, shedding light on Dhananjoy's side of the story and the anomalies in the investigation and judgment. Several key points from the report raise questions about the fairness of the trial and the reliability of the evidence presented.


The post-mortem report indicated strong resistance by the victim, with injuries and blood on her hands suggesting that she had fought back against her attacker. However, there were no signs of struggle on the appellant's body when he appeared on the balcony after the crime. There were also no visible bloodstains on his clothes, despite the victim's body being covered in blood. These discrepancies raise doubts about the appellant's involvement.


No fingerprints belonging to the appellant were recovered from the victim's apartment or the victim's body. The absence of fingerprints adds another layer of uncertainty to the case.

Witness Testimonies

Contradictions in witness testimonies further complicate the case. The liftman initially stated that he took the appellant to the third floor, where the victim's apartment was located. However, he later changed his statement, claiming he saw the appellant going down the stairs at the same time. The security guard's testimony about the appellant appearing on the balcony also raises questions, as the security post did not have a direct line of sight to the balcony. The reasons behind these contradictions and the security guard turning hostile were not adequately examined by the court.

Non-examination of Crucial Witnesses

The court focused primarily on the appellant's actions and non-compliance with the transfer order. However, crucial witnesses, such as the security guard who was supposed to replace the appellant, were not examined. The reasons for the guard's non-compliance and his alibi during the time of the crime were not considered, potentially leaving gaps in the investigation.

The Mother of the Victim

Contradictory statements regarding the time the victim's mother left the apartment raise doubts about the sequence of events. Additionally, the mother's actions, such as dragging the victim to the lift after discovering her, tampered with the crime scene. The delayed reporting of the incident to the police and the subsequent actions of the victim's family members add further complexity to the case.

Time of the Commission of the Offense

Considering the timeline presented by witnesses, the appellant had less than 20 minutes to enter the apartment, commit the offense, steal the wristwatch, and leave without a trace of struggle. The possibility of someone else's involvement and the absence of any visible signs of a struggle were not thoroughly examined.

Validity of the Motive

The prosecution argued that the appellant's motive was driven by his repeated teasing of the victim and the transfer order. However, the fact that the appellant took the time to steal a wristwatch from the victim's apartment raises doubts about the prosecution's theory. The court failed to address why the watch was not found on the appellant's person at the time of his arrest and why he would store the clothes used in the crime.

Non-examination of Forensic Evidence

The forensic evidence, including semen stains found on the victim's undergarments and pubic hair, was not tested for DNA to establish a connection to the appellant. Additionally, the blood found at the crime scene did not match the appellant's blood type. The failure to conduct DNA tests raises concerns about the accuracy of the evidence presented.

The Post-mortem Report

The post-mortem report indicated sexual intercourse but did not find any injuries around the victim's private parts that would suggest forced sexual intercourse. This raises the possibility of consensual sexual activity, which could challenge the prosecution's case.

Other Arguments Not Considered

Several other factors were not adequately considered by the court, including how the appellant entered and left the apartment and why the victim would allow someone who had harassed her into her home. The court also failed to address the employer's lack of oversight regarding compliance with transfer orders and the conflict of interest between the appellant and another security guard involved with a maidservant.


The Dhananjoy Chatterjee case raises important questions about the judicial process and the need for a thorough examination of evidence in criminal cases. While we may never know for certain whether Dhananjoy was guilty or innocent, it is evident that proper procedure was not followed during his trial. The importance of collecting and examining evidence meticulously cannot be overstated. It is crucial that even in the most heinous crimes, the accused receives a fair chance to present their case, and the courts apply their judicial minds to investigate all aspects of the crime. This case serves as a reminder of the significance of upholding the principle that even if 100 criminals go free, one innocent person should not suffer. Aspiring legal professionals must learn from this case to ensure a fair and just judicial system.

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