How Kolkata Police nabbed the man who chopped his pregnant wife's body in 1954

[Book extract] Belarani Dutta murder case was rare at that time anywhere in the world, for the primitive and savage violence it exhibited.

 |  30-minute read |   27-03-2018
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The Belarani Dutta murder case, 1954

Tollygunge police station. Case number 116. Date: January 31, 1954. Indian Penal Code Sections 302 and 201: Murder and causing disappearance of the evidence of offence

Dawn had melted into morning, the crisp winter breeze was soon going to be broken by the first warm rays of the sun. Shops in Kalighat refugee market would take a few more hours to open. The cleaners, though, were up even before the break of dawn. How would they manage to scrub and sweep the place clean after the deluge of people arrived! So they always started off early, though their movements were still torpid and would turn into a tizzy of fervent activity only later in the day.

One of these sweepers noticed three newspaper-wrapped packets outside a toilet near the Keoratala crematorium. Sweepers and cleaners are accustomed to the refuse around them, and he would probably have given an indifferent shrug and dumped them somewhere. But experience had also taught him to spot the difference between garbage and… what was it?

The newspaper covering was torn around the edges, and when the sweeper peeped to see what was inside, he let out a yelp of terror. The package was tied with a coconut coil rope, there were marks of dried blood on the newspaper, and protruding from it were human fingers!

A crowd gathered in no time. The Tollygunge police station was informed. Officers came down and had to first clear out the crowd that had been looking intensely at the packets and scrutinising them. Then they opened the packets, one after the other. They contained two arms that went up to the elbow joint — palm, fingers, wrist and forearm ending at the elbow. All of these had been chopped into pieces. The newspapers used were of the November 21 edition of Jugantar.

January 30, 1954. Afternoon.

The guard at Kalighat Park had just finished his lunch. Like every other day, he was strolling around the trees in the languid winter afternoon. Suddenly he froze, eyes transfixed on something behind the trunk of a mango tree. What was lying amid the thick bushes and weeds? Four newspaper-wrapped packets, tied with coconut coil ropes. Filled with curiosity, he tore open the newspapers in a swift movement, mindless of the consequences.

What he saw inside threw him into a fit of hysteric fear. Shrieking and running amok, the trembling guard’s behaviour immediately drew the attention of the pedestrians walking by. Within a couple of minutes, nearly a hundred people had gathered around the packets. In one, there were dismembered body parts — two legs from the knee to the sole. In another, the upper portion of a woman’s body chopped into three portions. In the third, there was a head with eyes gouged out, ears, lips torn off, facial skin peeled off — all of this had been done with an obvious intent to make the face unrecognisable. Only a few strands of hair were stuck on the head. In the third packet was a full-grown dead foetus, perhaps a few days or hours before birth.

Officers from the Tollygunge police station rushed again, this time to Kalighat Park, even as the early morning’s unusual discovery had hardly sunk in. Officers from the homicide department of Lalbazar, headquarters of the Kolkata Police, rushed there too.

All four packets had been made using Jugantar newspaper — the editions of November 21, 1953,  January 10, 1954, January 25, 1954 and January 26, 1954 .

The savagery of this deed was so horrifying that everyone — from the crowd that had gathered, to the policemen who were collecting the packets and other evidence — were shaken.

The park was searched thoroughly. Out came another packet which contained two portions of two thighs. The newspaper that it was wrapped in? No points for guessing that it was Jugantar.

February 27, 1954

Past midnight. The interrogation room of Lalbazar, Kolkata Police’s headquarters. A man in his mid-thirties sat on a chair, completely fatigued by the impact of a marathon interrogation. The questioning had started around evening and showed no signs of coming to an end. The young man, though, had managed to remain unperturbed by the difficult questioning of the first few hours — he had denied everything.

This is how every difficult case pans out. The accused does not admit to the crime in the initial hours. But he is allowed to say whatever he wants to in order to defend himself. He is not countered, there are no arguments. The investigators keep noting down the statements, unresponsive, their deadpan expression giving no hint of what’s going on in their mind.

After a while, complacency sets in because the person being questioned becomes confident that his lies are being taken for facts. The real game of wit takes off from there. The investigators now begin to draw his attention to the innumerable loopholes, lies and contradictions in his narrative. There is nothing he can do now to keep the truth hidden any longer.

That’s exactly what happened that night. The man’s tenacity was wearing out, his energy had been sapped dry, and worse, he was turning into a nervous wreck — all of this evident from the tiny specks of perspiration that had started to dot his forehead. His dogged perseverance was beginning to wear out.

Samarendra Nath Ghosh, officer-in-charge of the homicide section, had by then figured that the much tried and tested method was reaping great results. He would just need to wait a little longer. Finally, the man gave in. “Sir, I killed her. I cut her into pieces. There was no other way.” Saying this, he hid his face in his hand and rested his head on the table in front.

Samarendra felt the thrill of relief, but gave no indication of this. Instead, he picked up a glass of water from the table and extended it to the man. “Here, drink some water. The rest you can tell me leisurely.” The night had passed. It was almost dawn.

In recent times, there have been many cases of gruesome murders in different parts of India and abroad, all of which were widely reported by the media. We know about these cases from television channels and the internet. Some cases have been the subject of films and daily soaps.

However, documentation and evidence indicate that a case such as the Belarani Dutta murder case was rare at that time anywhere in the world, for the primitive and savage violence it exhibited.

The case had obviously created a sensation throughout Kolkata. Its ripples may have faded with the passage of time, but even to this day, the Belarani Dutta murder case is considered the rarest of the rare cases in criminology research.

After the body parts were retrieved, the Kolkata Police Commissioner didn’t waste time in handing over the case to the detective department of the Kolkata Police, a specialised section that had some of the best investigators in the country. Samarendra Nath Ghosh would head the probe.

On the day of the post-mortem, on January 31, doctors tried to piece together some sort of a semblance of a human body. It took them seven to eight hours to give it a shape that closely resembled a female human form. There were two reasons why the corpse on the table stood out — one, the woman’s feet were unusually large. Two, there was a deep cut mark on the left thigh.

The doctor presiding over the post-mortem was unequivocal about the cause of death — by a sharp object near the neck, which in medical parlance was said to be “anti-mortal and homicidal in nature”. The other wounds — there was a large number of them — had been caused after death, what is called “post-mortem injuries”.

Now the police moved on to the most difficult part: to find out who this woman was. Tracing the identity of the victim was obviously imperative if they had to find who the murderer was. But it was not going to be easy. The facial skin had been peeled off and the face severely mutilated.

But the investigators were not giving up so easily. They got in touch with Dr Murari Mohan Mukherjee, who headed the plastic surgery department of Kolkata’s Karnani Hospital. Dr Mukherjee, who lived in Chinsurah of Hooghly district, (about seventy kilometres from Kolkata) was a top doctor in the field.

Dr Mukherjee got down to the job with a mix of hope and trepidation. He used plastic surgery on the face of the corpse to get a hint of her face before it had been disfigured. The doctor’s craftsmanship was stunning — he made a countenance out of a mutilated head severed from the body. But putrefaction had set in, and critical changes were taking place in the muscles and tissues, so the result wasn’t as good as Dr Mukherjee would have wanted it to be. This was probably the first case in India where the police resorted to plastic surgery — one of the reasons why the Belarani Dutta murder case investigation still stands out in the history of criminal investigation in the country.

Pictures of the face taken after plastic surgery were published in newspapers, asking the public for help in identifying her. But there was no response, and no progress in the investigation even after a week. No one seemed to know of the woman.

After twenty days, the corpse kept in the morgue of Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College & Hospital had to be cremated. Keeping samples of hair and bones, the body was cremated as per procedure.

By then, the Kolkata Police had conducted a thoroughly professional reconnaissance — hundreds of people who lived or had passed by the areas where the body parts had been disposed off were questioned. Information was sent out to police elsewhere in West Bengal to track down possible “missing persons” complaints. But there was no worthwhile lead anywhere.

A month passed in this way. It was the last week of February, and still no progress had been made. When there are no positive results despite the best efforts of investigators, a despondency starts to creep in. “It’s all right. That’s hardly my fault. I tried enough. So many cases remain unresolved…” such is the refrain playing in the mind.

But Samarendra was not one to give up easily. His assiduousness was comparable with German footballers — not Brazilians or Argentineans. His patience and perseverance made him believe it was possible to win even when he was on the verge of defeat. And he preferred courage over investigating flair.

It is perhaps true that fortune favours the brave and those who refuse to accept defeat. For them, the tiniest pinprick of light can signal a flash of hope.

On February 25, around 9.30pm, Samarendra was on his way home after a long, tiring day. He was fatigued and in low spirits due to a cough and cold. Travelling in his office vehicle between Tollygunge and Rash Behari Avenue, it struck him that he should buy a bottle of cough syrup. As the car approached Russa Road, he found two medicine stores standing cheek by jowl. A man outside the Royal Medical Store was downing the shutters, while the other one, South Medical Pharmacy, was open. He asked the driver to stop the car.

The run-down store had nothing to impress customers. The shelves were nearly empty and only a few strips of medicine and bottles were strewn around. The only employee who sat there fitted in perfectly with the surroundings — bored and displeased. It was only when he saw a customer stepping out of a police vehicle that he decided to come out of his stupor.

“I want a cough syrup.”

“Let me see if I can find one, Sir.”

After a few minutes of searching, the man replied. “I can give you medicines for fever and headache. The cough syrup stock needs to be replenished.”

“So what’s the point of keeping a shop like this open? Why not shut it down? Where’s the owner?”

“Unfortunately, Sir, he hasn’t dropped by even once in the past one month.”

“I see! That’s the reason. What’s his name? Ask him to shut shop.”

“His name is Biren Dutta, Sir. I have sent word for him many times. He is usually here every evening. This is the first time I am not seeing him around for such a long interval.”

Unable to find the cough syrup, Samarendra got back to his car and asked the driver to start the car. Only, the conversation kept playing in his head — He hasn’t dropped by even once in the past one month. This is the first time I am not seeing him around for such a long interval.

Samarendra asked the driver to turn around. Many questions were niggling in his mind now, and he needed to clear up his discomfort if he were to return home peacefully.

Actually, Samarendra was never content — whenever he did not go out of the way to clear his doubts, he thought of it as laxity on his part.

“Run and get me the address of the shop’s owner,” he told his driver.

55/4/2 Turf Road.

It was near Shambhu Nath Pandit Hospital. Samarendra’s energy was running low after a hard day’s work and a nagging cough, but he found it hard to resist visiting the place immediately.

As expected, the room was under lock and key. The neighbours informed Samarendra that Biren Dutta had lived here for many years now. He had been staying there with his wife Bela and their six-year-old son. A heavily pregnant Bela had been taken to Shishu Mangal Hospital in January-end, Biren had told them. But the neighbours had neither spotted him nor his son since January 30.

The information was enough for a sudden adrenalin rush. Only investigators who have cracked difficult cases know the sudden throb of excitement that runs through every vein when it is evident that the chase is leading to the right trail. It didn’t take more than half an hour to confirm that no one by the name of Bela Dutta had been admitted to Shishu Mangal Hospital in the past one month.

The mystery was beginning to unravel. Officers of the homicide department now delved deep to fish out this invisible character. His name was known, as was the shop he owned, and his residence. Moreover, the neighbours had described him in great detail. It was impossible that this man will not be tracked down now. Everything Biren Dutta had ever done in his life came to the police’s knowledge in just twenty-four hours.

Apparently, Biren Dutta had another address on Harish Mukherjee Road not too far from Turf Road. This place was put under police watch. In the early hours of February 27, a man was seen emerging from 102A Harish Mukherjee Road, his face covered with a shawl. He was tailed for a few paces, then a bit more, until he reached Kedar Bose Road. There, he was stopped by a plainclothes policeman.

“Are you Biren Dutta?” he asked suddenly, catching Biren unawares, not giving him the opportunity to think of another name to bluff the policeman.

“Yes… but why do you ask?”

“Is Bela Dutta your wife?”

“Yes… but… why do you ask?”

“Just answer what I ask you. Where is she?”

“What can I say? Such a shameful thing… she has eloped with her lover.”

“Get into the car. We are from Lalbazar. The rest we’ll discuss there.”

Biren Dutta, aka Bechu. Age 34.

His childhood had been spent in a village near Budge Budge, in North 24 Parganas, a district bordering the north of Kolkata. His father, a sub-inspector in the West Bengal Police force, passed away when he was only a year old, and his mother died a few months later.

His sisters Abha and Kanak were married and lived in Andul (in Howrah district, adjoining Kolkata), and Kolkata respectively.

With both his parents dead, Biren had to stay on in the village with his grandmother, and he was admitted to a school there. He had two cousins (sons of his father’s younger brother) — Nabani and Jyotindra — who lived in Kolkata’s Chandranath Chatterjee Street, in the southern part of the city.

When he was eight or nine years old, Biren’s cousins brought him to Kolkata and admitted him to Ramrick Institution. It would be absurd to suggest that Biren was “studying” in school. Not only were his grades poor, he also bunked classes regularly, spending the entire time watching adult films, smoking and drinking. The furious cousins yelled, a few slaps landed on his cheeks, and he was warned but this only resulted in the wayward adolescent Biren, who was then in class eight, to stomp out of the brothers’ home.

He landed in the house of his sister Abha, in Andul. Abha’s husband owned a medicine store, so Biren ran errands and did some work relating to this business. Between 1934 and 1944, Biren stayed with his sister and brother-in-law in Andul. However, his cousin Nabani, who had initially brought him to Kolkata, still held a soft corner in his heart for their “Bechu”. He was in regular contact with the cousins and often visited Abha’s home. During one such visit, he found Bechu’s disposition a bit too ruffled, and his heart filled with inexplicable love and pity for his cousin, Nabani instantly decided to bring him back to Kolkata.

Biren was twenty-four years old at that point. Abha’s husband, too, was affectionate towards Biren. Now that he had left for Kolkata, and wasn’t by his side, his heart ached for the young man. He had bought a medicine store, South Calcutta Pharmacy, on Russa Road, around this time, and he now gifted the store to Biren along with all legal documents. Back from Andul, Biren started living with cousin Nabani all over again. By then, Nabani’s daughter Kamala was a sprightly young woman of seventeen. Kamala and Biren fell head over heels in love with each other. It was perplexing, mystifying — what they felt for each other — and they could not stay apart. However, this was not the kind of relationship that was going to be accepted by the family because Biren was Kamala’s uncle — a close blood relation.

book-cover_032718013328.jpgMurder In The City; by Supratim Sarkar; Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited; Rs 254

Knowing that they were never going to get to be together, Biren and Kamala decided to elope. They rented a room on Sadananda Road, not too far from Nabani’s house. Nabani made repeated attempts to separate the two, but no amount of sermonising worked. It only led to heated arguments. Nabani’s love for Biren had caused him more pain than he could have foreseen. When he realised that matters were too far gone, and his own daughter had surrendered herself in love, Nabani decided to withdraw himself and hoped this would somehow reduce at least his own suffering. Nabani’s decision to not file a police complaint against his cousin was based on the apprehension that such a step would tarnish his name and social prestige, rather than succeed in separating the young lovers.

Biren and Kamala started a new life in their Sadananda Road home. He gave her a new name — Belarani. She wanted their union to be legal and pleaded with Biren for a registered marriage. But he had always been like a recalcitrant teenager and got a thrill flouting what he was asked to do. He had put sindoor on the parting of her hair — a palpable and undeniable evidence of marriage, according to his thinking, but beyond that he did nothing.

Young Belarani, giddy with love, accepted this as her fate. They identified themselves as husband and wife to the neighbours and within a couple of years they had a son, Bathindranath Dutta, their dear Boton. After Boton’s birth, they moved to the address on Turf Road. Bit by bit, Biren’s relationship with Bela turned lukewarm.

There was new excitement in his life now. It was Meera. Biren soon married the girl, daughter of Saroj Kanti Basu, resident of Srikrishna Lane. This time, as if to prove his devotion to Meera, Biren opted for a registered marriage. He took the plunge in mid-1948, without breathing a word about Belarani to Meera. The only persons who knew about the existence of the two women in Biren’s life were his sisters and brothers-in-law. They had never quite accepted Biren’s marriage with Bela, and therefore gave tacit support to his marriage with Meera. Biren’s registered marriage with Meera would eventually lead Biren and Bela to separate, they hoped.

For the first two years after marriage, Meera stayed with Biren’s sister in her Goabagan house. During this time, she gave birth to a girl, though the newborn died within a couple of days. For a while Meera was in a different world, she was so numbed with pain. Then she gathered herself and asked Biren to find a place just for themselves. How could a woman have her own home and family in someone else’s house? Finally, Biren acceded to her repeated pleas. He rented a small room on 102A Harish Mukherjee Road.

In 1953, they had a son. Biren lived a life of artful duplicity. He had become accustomed to bluffing those around him on a daily basis. Turf Road and Harish Mukherjee Road were just a few hundred metres apart. Yet, for months he made sure Meera and Bela didn’t know about each other’s existence. He would visit the Turf Road home and have lunch with Bela, while Meera thought her husband’s busy work schedule had led him to have a quick meal at the YMCA canteen. He would spend most nights at the rented room on Harish Mukherjee Road with Meera and their son, while Bela was told that he had to make frequent trips outside Kolkata to purchase consignments of medicines.

Biren was quite without conscience, a charlatan who led a double life with near perfect ease. Had it not been for the dearth of money, Biren would possibly have pulled it off till the very end. He also had a natural talent for acting in theatre and jatra that had been his passion since childhood. Whether it was his natural talent for drama and trickery in real life that had made him a good actor on stage, or if his acting skills helped him out with his trickery in real life, it is difficult to say. Biren had acted in small plays staged in his neighbourhood during his childhood days.

Later, he started visiting the film studios of Tollygunge such as New Theatres and befriended several producers and directors of Bengali films of those days and acted in at least six of them. One of these six films was Kamona, the second film of Bengali matinee idol Uttam Kumar. The other films in which Biren acted included Naari, Mohakaal, Shubhoda, Nishkriti and Paap-er Pothey. Paap-er Pothey — the road to sin — had a literal significance in Biren’s life. His friends in the film studios introduced him to races, gambling and sex workers. His already muddled life now got murkier. He lost all inclination to look after the medicine store, and left it entirely in the care of employees.

Naturally, this soon affected the business. But with two households to run, this dearth in money led to a major crisis. He tried to pull through somehow. But matters reached rock-bottom with the news that Bela was going to have a second child. It drove him insane.

What was going to happen?

“I could not take it anymore, Sir. My business was under severe distress. I had to take loans. And I had grown tired of leading a double life, lying to both Meera and Bela. I was scared of getting caught. Meera was getting suspicious, very soon Bela too had begun to question me about my long absences from home. Why stay outside most nights, she would ask. When I heard she was going to have another child, I shuddered at the thought of the additional expenses it would involve. Then I thought it best to get rid of her. Believe me, Sir, there was no other way.”

 Biren’s narrative would be cross-checked later, but as he confessed, no one interrupted the flow of his words. The investigators let Biren go on, letting him blurt out more and more details.

“I pretended to be angry. I told her this is not my child. You’ve taken advantage of my regular absences. At first she cried, then we had a big fight over this.” Only his son Boton, then six years old, was now in the way of committing the murder. But Biren’s fertile imagination came up with a plausible story to tell Meera. He told her a friend and his wife had died in a road accident leaving behind their only six-year-old child. If Meera wouldn’t mind, could he bring the orphan home?

Meera was filled with such pity she could not refuse. On January 27, 1954, Bela was then nine months pregnant. Biren got back home from the pharmacy around 10.30pm and found Boton sleeping soundly. Bela served him dinner and Biren ate silently.

Suddenly, he told her gruffly, “I am not going to spend money on a child that isn’t mine.” As soon as he hissed at Bela, her patience ran out.

“Do you think I am not aware of your flings?” she retorted.

He had been waiting to strike, and now he started raining blows on her. He dashed for the kitchen, got hold of a sickle and struck her on the neck. As if one strike was not good enough to kill her, he kept striking her.

She was killed instantly. As her lifeless body slumped to the ground, he emptied a cupboard, and put her body inside. Then he washed away the blood, but not before he had taken off all the gold jewellery on her — six pairs of bangles, ring and earrings. Then he calmly went to bed. The following morning, January 28, Biren began to implement the plan exactly the way he had chalked it out.

Benu Roy was a close friend of Bela and lived alone in a room on the first floor of the Turf Road house. She adored Boton, and used to spend a large part of the day with the child.

“I called Benudi in the morning and told her that Bela had to be urgently admitted to Shishu Mangal hospital late in the night, and the delivery could happen any time. Would she have trouble keeping Boton in her care for some days?” Benudi happily agreed. Boton inquired after his mother in the morning. I told him she had been admitted to the hospital and would be back with a baby brother or sister soon.

Relieved that these humdrum things had been taken care of, Biren left for his medicine store for the day’s work. Bela’s body lay locked inside the cupboard. He had worked out his plan till the last detail by now, including how he would dispose of the body. If the police could not find the body, how would they ever track him down? Around 9.30pm, the employees of the pharmacy left for the day, and Biren got to work on his plan. He picked up some Jugantar newspapers stacked in his shop and headed straight to the Turf Road home.

What happened next, Biren told the sleuths in a calm, dispassionate voice: “I took out Bela’s body from the cupboard. Then I chopped off her head with a sickle, severing it from the body. Next, I cut off the ears, nose, hair, hands, feet, chest, belly—all of it, one after the other. I peeled off the skin from her face too. After I had wrapped each of these with Jugantar newspapers and tied them up with coconut coil ropes, I put them back into the cupboard, and locked it up again. The room was flooded with blood and an obnoxious, putrefying smell, so I had to wash the room several times with phenyl.”

This part of the work done, a relieved Biren went off to sleep — now for two nights in a row with the body inside the cupboard. He woke up in the morning and left for the pharmacy as usual, stayed at work all day and got back home at night. He took out all the packages, put them in two big, strong nylon bags used when shopping for the family’s ration, then he hired a rickshaw and went near Kalighat Park, but stopped a few paces away. Alighting from the rickshaw, so he wouldn’t have the rickshaw puller around to witness anything, he dropped some of the packets into the park. He dropped off the remaining packages near Keoratala crematorium, outside a public toilet, on the way home.

On his return to the Turf Road house, Biren did another round of washing and cleaning of the floor. This time he also removed blood stains splattered here and there and cleaned the cupboard thoroughly.

Next morning, he bumped into Benudi while leaving for work. “How is Bela doing? I so want to visit her!”

“No, Benudi. There is no need for it. Perhaps the delivery will happen tonight. Her pressure is fluctuating, and doctors have kept her in a solitary cabin. She’ll be home in no time.”

The experienced actor delivered the same lines with equal ease to the other inquisitive neighbours. Over the next few days, Biren took all of Bela’s jewellery to the Harish Mukherjee Road house, informing Meera it was a surety against some money a friend had borrowed.

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Then he disposed of Bela’s clothes, cosmetics and other objects of daily use into the Tolly’s nullah, a water channel traversing the south-western part of the city that was actually more of a sewer channel. He took Boton from Benudi’s custody and went to the Harish Mukherjee Road home. By then, Meera was anxiously waiting for the unfortunate orphan boy whose parents had died in a road accident.

The Kolkata Police assembled witnesses and proofs with a lot of care. Bela’s jewellery was retrieved from Harish Mukherjee Road, the sickle used to murder and chop Bela to pieces was found in the Turf Road house. There were strands of her hair stuck on the sickle and on the phenyl bottle. Dry stains of blood samples were collected from the floor. Forensic report confirmed these as human blood, and that the strands of hair belonged to a woman. It also confirmed that the hair on the sickle and those on the phenyl bottle belonged to the same person. These were all considered very important evidence in court.

In order to prove that the deceased woman was Belarani, the investigators obtained documents to show that she was pregnant. Combing the Turf Road residence, sleuths got hold of a ticket dated November 24, 1953 for a checkup by a gynaecologist at Shambhu Nath Pandit hospital.

This, then, was evidence that Bela had visited the doctor in pregnant condition. Biren had an odd habit of collecting old newspapers. Yellowish and tattered newspapers were likely to be found in his pharmacy. All the newspapers were seized from the pharmacy and as expected, once they were arranged in chronological order, newspapers from some days were missing.

Only those that were used to cover Belarani’s body parts were missing. This circumstantial evidence was of major significance, the court observed during the trial. Belarani’s relatives were informed about the murder immediately after the matter came to light, and after Biren’s arrest. They had long remained out of touch, but the brutal murder of their girl, that too with such savagery, left them in a state of disbelief and shock. When her father, uncle, brother, sister, all gathered to meet the investigators, they noticed one more thing. The post-mortem report had mentioned that the murdered woman had had unusually large feet, and now the investigators noticed the same kind of feet on all her relatives. Could this prove that the murdered woman was Belarani, aka Kamala?

The Deputy Commissioner of the detective department wrote a letter to Dr SS Sarkar, the illustrious and acclaimed professor of Calcutta University’s Anthropology department, inquiring about this. Photographs of Kamala’s feet, along with tracings of her father and uncle’s feet were sent to Dr Sarkar.

Would he be able to indicate if they were from the same family, the Deputy Commissioner wanted to know. The legendary Dr Sarkar studied the traces and the photograph, and finally the much-awaited letter from him reached the police. Yes, Dr Sarkar wrote, they were indeed from the same family. This further established the identity of the murdered woman. The investigators were inching towards a foolproof chargesheet.

All this would have been unnecessary, had DNA tests been in vogue. But this was 1954, and DNA tests came to be used in criminal cases only some decades later in 1986, in England’s Leicester, in connection with a rape and murder case.

The final blow for Biren was Belarani’s mother’s statement. Remember, there was a deep cut mark on the left thigh of the murdered woman’s body? Looking at the photograph of the thigh shown to her by investigators, Bela’s mother was in tears. She recalled that her little Kamala had hurt herself when she was eight years old, and the injury had left a permanent mark on her thigh. Who could have offered a better testimony than a mother?

Finally, the chargesheet was filed in court. That chargesheet was so watertight that it can serve as a lesson for investigators even today on how to frame such a document.

The defence lawyer’s argument in the Alipore Sessions Court was that the unidentified woman was not Belarani at all. They stated that she had eloped with her secret paramour — a claim that was proved otherwise in a series of intense court hearings. Arguments and counter-arguments went on for six months. Documents that recorded circumstantial evidence and forensic tests finally led the court to announce its verdict — Biren Dutta was to be hanged till death. The higher courts, first the Calcutta High Court, then the Supreme Court, gave the same verdict. Biren Dutta was hanged on the morning January 28, 1956, for the murder of Belarani, or Kamala.

Italian sociologist Cesare Lombroso, who is known as the father of criminology, was the first to suggest the possibility of trying to delve into the murkiest corners of criminal minds by merging science and anthropology. It was on this foundation that the research on criminal psychology is based. As one leafs through the fragile, yellowish pages of the case diary of the Belarani Dutta murder case, it seems some cases can never be understood within the paradigms of information and research. How can one understand or explain the savage mind of Biren Dutta and the barbarity of the killing? There is not much it can be compared to in terms of the method of killing and the brutality it involved from the time. In his book, Beyond A Boundary (1963), renowned Trinidad historian CLR James (1902-1989) had written, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” The mind of the criminal can be described similarly — how much can be known of the mind from the outside? Whatever glimpse is available superficially hardly indicates what goes on in the truly murky depths.

(Excerpted with permissions of the Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited from Murder In The City by Supratim Sarkar.)

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Supratim Sarkar Supratim Sarkar

Supratim Sarkar, a 1997-batch officer of the Indian Police Service, is presently additional commissioner of Police, Kolkata.

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