The Telegraph
Thursday , November 22 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Struggle with knot of hangman

New Delhi, Nov. 21: Ajmal Kasab is the 56th convict to be executed by the government since Independence. Bengal’s Dhananjay Chatterjee was the last person hanged in 2004 for raping and killing 14-year-old student Hetal Parekh in 1990.

Across the country, the mercy petitions of 308 convicts on death row have been rejected by the President, but most states do not have hangmen. “There are very few states in the country that have hangmen,” a senior police officer from Pune said.

The officer added: “To become a hangman, one has to be a male above 5 feet 4 inches tall.” But the seemingly easy criteria notwithstanding, there are not many takers for the post.

While Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam and Bihar have had no hangman for over a decade now, Delhi is doing without one since Kallu and Fakira, who hanged Indira Gandhi’s assassins Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh in 1989. Bihar has the position vacant since 1995, and Bengal has no hangman since Nata Mullick, who hanged Chatterjee, died in 2009.

“Jail authorities are equipped to teach men who want to be hangmen how to tie the knot and pull the lever. When I was posted in Meerut Central Jail, I once saw a hangman use soap on the rope to make the hanging smooth. I know Mullick, who had used a ripe banana to make the rope smooth. So, people improvise,” the officer said, adding that hangmen usually tie five consecutive knots on the noose to ensure swift deaths.

The skill of a hangman, the officer said, is usually measured by how swift the death is. While the hanging process takes about 40 minutes, preparations for it start a week earlier.

Although Kasab’s execution was done under strict secrecy, sources in Yerwada jail said the officials had followed the drill — the strength and capability of the rope was tested in the presence of the jail superintendent a week before, and then it was kept under lock and key.

Sources said no one except the jail superintendent knew the identity of the rope’s victim. “In the evening before the actual execution, the rope is tested again,” a source in Yerwada said.

“The rope is tied to a bag of clay or sand, whichever is available, weighing more than one-and-a-half times the convict’s weight and the bag is then dropped from a height of six to eight feet, again depending on the prisoner’s weight. The more the prisoner weighs, the less the drop.

“If a convict weighs less than 45kg, he would be given a drop of eight feet and if he weighs more than 75kg, he is given a drop of six feet. The body usually hangs for half an hour after which it is dropped. The body is subsequently tested by a doctor and the prisoner is declared dead,” said the police officer.

Sources said a convict usually is told about the date he is to be hanged and he is woken up early in the morning that day and given the food of his choice.

It is at this time that he is asked for his final wish. “Most prisoners ask for good food, snaps of family members or even a phone call home. Some just refuse to say anything,’’ a police officer said.