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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Capital punishment: A family business

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC correspondent in Calcutta

India hangman Nata Mullick
Mr Mullick says that he is haunted by the memories of some people he has hanged

For Nata Mullick, capital punishment runs in the family. His father hanged more than 500 people, mostly Bengali revolutionaries fighting British colonial rule.

His grandfather also disposed of numerous convicts by use of the noose.

But as the Calcutta hangman prepares to retire - or hang up his ropes - he may have one last job to perform before his grandson takes over the family business.

"This fellow is a monster. He does not deserve the gallows, he should be thrown into a cage with tigers," says Mr Mullick, pointing at a rapist-murderer.

A vigorous supporter of capital punishment, he made 5,000 rupees ($110) for each of his 24 hangings - and will make double that amount for the last one, which is currently the subject of a legal appeal.

Family lineage

Human rights groups across Calcutta have campaigned to prevent the hanging of apartment guard Dhananjoy Chatterjee, accused of raping and killing a 16-year-old girl.

Late on Thursday, Indian authorities said President Abdul Kalam had ordered a stay of execution until he had considered an appeal for clemency from Mr Chatterjee's family.

But Nata Mullick was furious.

"Will they condone someone who has raped their daughter, their own daughter? It is easy to sermonise about somebody else," he says in an outspoken attack on those agitating for the abolition of the death penalty.

Mr Mullick pays homage to his hangman father Shivlal Mullick
Delivering capital punishment runs in the Mullick family

Even if Dhananjoy Chatterjee does eventual avoid the gallows, Nata Mullick's hangman lineage is set to continue.

His grandson Prabhat, an unemployed 24-year-old, will assist him for the last execution, holding the convict firm and tight under the gallows as the noose is lowered on his covered head.

"I will pull the lever but this is the last time I will do it," says Mr Mullick.

Grandfather and grandson have been hard at practice with dummies for the last week or so.

"This is my first execution in 15 years and I must get everything right," says Nata Mullick, "but my conscience is clear. I have not hanged revolutionaries and freedom fighters, I have only hanged criminals."

'Innocent faces'

His father Shivlal Mullick hanged some of India's most revered freedom fighters like Surya Sen, whose band of revolutionaries "liberated" the port city of Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) from the British for two days in 1930.

So is Nata Mullick haunted by the memories of people he has hanged?

"Yes," says the hangman.

"Once in a while that happens. I have hanged some criminals with very innocent faces. And I tend to see those fellows in my dreams," he said.

When asked why he supported capital punishment, the Calcutta hangman grows furious.

My conscience is clear. I have not hanged revolutionaries and freedom fighters, I have only hanged criminals

"I am like the police. They arrest criminals, I hang the worst of them. I am doing what the government wants me to do. It is they who will decide whether criminals should be hanged or not," says Nata Mullick.

These days, Indian courts generally avoid awarding capital punishment. The last to receive the death sentence were the two Sikh bodyguards accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. They were executed in 1989.

Nata says he is upset at the media attention and the relentless questions they ask him, but his family quite enjoys his celebrity status.

"Do you know he has actually acted in Bengali films?" his son Mahadev asks proudly.

In a state where family life is so important, the Mullicks have become better known than many film stars.

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