Home > News Shots Columns
Apsara Reddy’s Documentary featuring Dhasvanth reinstates debate on death penalty

The heinous rape and murder of seven-year-old Hasini in early 2017 shook the conscience of everyone. Soon it came to be known that the perpetrator was a young software engineer going by the name Dhasvanth who lived in the same complex as the child victim. A paedophile, he had sexually assaulted the young unassuming victim and burnt her body in a bid to get rid of evidence but soon the law would catch up with him.

Dhasvanth pleaded not guilty, came across as arrogant, hardly repentant considering that he even went to the extent of threatening the poor girl’s father that too right in the premises of the court flanked by hundreds of lawyers and policemen. A new documentary by well known journalist and transgender activist Apsara Reddy, titled Unmaking of a Monster, which chronicles dreaded criminals inside Puzhal prison shows that Dhasvanth still pretty much personifies the character traits that have been used above to describe him. However, it is not just Dhasvanth who’s the focus of this documentary but the likes of Perarivalan as well, a convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case who has been featured, so are several others. In a tete-a-tete with Apsara Reddy, she speaks to us about interacting with Dhasvanth, the idea behind the documentary, her take on death penalty and more.

Surely a lot of us feel strongly about crimes, especially those committed against children. What made you express solidarity with the Haasini case going beyond just feeling sorry about such incidents.

I have always strongly condemned incidents of child abuse and assault. Unfortunately, not much help is available for families beyond the empathy that’s limited to social spaces or your daily conversations. People need to step in and offer them psychological counselling, services of a lawyer, etc. That’s what I have been trying to do instead of just remaining a sympathetic but mute spectator.

Follow up is missing in most cases. The trails run for years and the state of affairs is so sad that the sexual predators walk away free after a certain point.

Even when you think of Dhasvanth, the Hasini case did him in. But for all you know he could have committed similar rapes before and could be a serial predator. No young man can rape, murder, try and erase evidence with that precision from his apartment unless he's done it before or cleverly planned it over days. In such cases, death penalty is the only way to go about it.

Death penalty has been subjected to its share of criticism. A lot of people including the likes of activists feel it’s unfair for anyone to decide upon killing another human being and life imprisonment would suffice. Your take on the issue.

Our country is fraught with issues like unemployment, bad economy, rupee being at an all time low against the dollar, etc. Prison environment doesn’t foster hostility – there is plenty of space to move about, you have access to three meals a day, clean drinking water, prisoners send wages back to their families, etc. Considering the gravity of the crimes they have committed in addition to the above-mentioned factors, the question we need to ask ourselves is should we be feeding these people at the cost of an honest taxpayer’s income? Puzhal, for instance, is spread over 220 acres and over time it becomes like a second comfortable home for prisoners. There are even NGOs coming in and conducting programmes. I don’t think it hardly qualifies as punishment beyond a point of time when you start acclimatising to the environment.

Prison laws undergo changes every now on then. Earlier, it was about pain matching the amount of pleasure one undergoes when committing a crime. Over time, it has come to be about reformation.

I am not saying everyone who has committed a crime be hanged. Let’s say for instance there’s a woman who has suffered years of cruelty at the hands of a man and she kills him. Do I wish for her to be put behind bars for the rest of her life? The cruelty has pushed her to do an awful thing and she might have even shivered at the first sight of blood.

But do all prisoners repent? Someone like Dhasvanth who knows right from wrong and has committed an action with a lot of pre-planning deserves to die. Whether death penalty acts as a deterrent or not, it would be the least form of retribution to the aggrieved family. That said, some of the prisoners I met at Puzhal seemed to be genuinely repentant of their actions.

What were the thoughts that went into coming up with the documentary? What were the challenges you encountered?

I wanted to document what was happening within the Puzhal prison and give a ring side view and held discussions with Commissioner of Police AK Viswanathan, ADGP-Prisons Ashutosh Shukla and others. I would have interacted with about 500 people, 30 of whom have been featured in the documentary. Needless, to say the going was not without its share of challenges. The prisoners would be unruly at times, engage in ungentleman-like behaviour or use abusive language. But I managed to weather it all.

There were many kinds of prisoners I met. Some had first class cells. Some like Dhasvanth posed challenges in their own ways. He was composed and gave very well-rehearsed answers. He says that he never killed Hasini and counters saying that if her body was burnt, where did the police find traces of semen on her? But when I asked him as to why he fled at the sight of his dead mother, he couldn’t give me a straight answer. Interacting with him made me realise that he is a psychopath and doesn’t deserve a second chance.

Other challenges I encountered was deciding on what should go and the bits that need to be left at the editing table itself. I had to careful about the allegations or names these prisoners take or releasing case sensitive information.

Though a lot of people attended the screening, the documentary seems to be quite private as of now. How do you plan to take it further?

I am hoping to take the documentary to as many spaces as possible – NGOs, festivals, etc – where the issue of child rape and death penalty could be discussed. Soon, I will be opening it to the public as well through social media platforms.

Even though judgments are delivered quickly, execution of death sentences seem to take their time. What’s your thoughts on this.

It’s just the way our legal system is built. Convicts approach higher courts or seek mercy of the president. All these take time. I am all for speedy execution.

You wear many hats and are known to do a lot of things. What is it that you are working on an immediate basis?

I am working on a petition that seeks to establish a registry of sexual offenders in the state so that these people wouldn’t be offered jobs in schools or move into places where they could once again potentially harm children. Think of it. A sexual predator out on bail gaining employment in a school and endangering lives of children. The registry could act as a point of reference to stop such instances from happening.

I also call upon the Tamil Nadu government to invest in counselling services for families of children battling sexual abuse. Many children are even pulled away from school. If centres could be established and they provided space for counselling, education, amongst other things for such children, it could do a lot of good.

Respond to
Behindwoods is not responsible for the views of columnists.



This page hosts the views of the authors of the column. The views are generally about current affiars and general topics in diversified areas such as political, international, national, and regional issues, sports, health, travel, lifestyle, technology and business. People having similar interets on the above topics will find this page useful.