Dhananjoy Chattarjee, convicted of the gruesome rape and murder of schoolgirl, Hetal Parekh, was hanged in Alipore Central jail in Kolkata early on 15 August 2004. The profound impact of media hype over his crime and punishment as well as life and death is multi-dimensional. It still haunts middle-class civil society, media and the state in Bengal. At least 20 children died while playing the convict and the hangman, thus reconstructing and reliving the drama of the ritual killing. The deadly impact of media hype was felt far beyond the middle class city homes as TVs beamed live demos by the hangman Nata Mallick and his apprentices, long before the actual hanging, to rural hamlets.
Among the dead and injured children were the cowherd boys in distant districts as well as slum children in Kolkata and semi-urban towns across the state. The impact was not limited to the West Bengal as it was evident in the reports of similar kind of child deaths from other parts of the country.
The study will be two-pronged and examine the political economy of the manufacturing of the news packages on the hanging: the dynamics of mass media's response, corporate strategies in creating and harvesting the hype. It will endeavour unravel the real nature of the mass media's "war with itself" and role of its "contradictory faces" which came to the fore during the months of media obsession with the judicial killing. Did it reflect the ideological and moral fissures within the "system", the fights against the hegemony of the dominant discourse? Or it was just a balancing act in a bid to underline its "pluralistic attitude and neutral face?"