Wednesday, June 15, 2011

With 1.2 Billion People, India Seeks a Good Hangman

India has 1.2 billion people, among them bankers, gurus, rag pickers, billionaires, snake charmers, software engineers, lentil farmers, rickshaw drivers, Maoist rebels, Bollywood movie stars and Vedic scholars, to name a few. Humanity runneth over. Except in one profession: India is searching for a hangman. 

Usually, India would not need one, given the rarity of executions. The last was in 2004. But in May, India’s president unexpectedly rejected a last-chance mercy petition from a convicted murderer in the Himalayan state of Assam. Prison officials, compelled to act, issued a call for a hangman.

No one answered.

Not initially.

The nation’s handful of known hangmen had either died, retired or disappeared. The situation was not too surprising, given the ambivalence within the Indian criminal justice system about executions. Capital punishment was codified during British rule, with hanging as the chosen method, but recent decades of litigating and legislating limited the actual practice to “the rarest of rare cases.”

Today, even prison officials encourage death row inmates to draft appeals. “At times, we also help the person draft the petition,” said K. V. Reddy, president of the All-India Prison Officers Association, who opposes capital punishment. “Normally, everybody sympathizes with a person who has spent a number of years in prison.”

Yet a hangman was needed in Assam. Magazines and newspapers published stories that read like macabre help-wanted ads: Large nation searching for someone willing to slip the noose around the neck of a murderer.
Jim Yardley and Hari Kumar in New York Times. Here

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