New Delhi: Numerous Tihar jail officers have refused to carry out the execution of four men convicted for the December 2012 gang rape, leaving the authorities searching arduously for a hangman, ThePrint has learnt.
The reason: If they make a mistake in hanging the men, it will be recorded in their service book and may even lead to judicial action.
According to the jail manual, a postmortem examination is conducted after hanging a convict, and in case any flaw is detected, like an unwarranted injury in the neck or an indication that the convict was subjected to extreme pain before he died because of an inexperienced person carrying out the execution, it can invite serious action.
“Since four persons are to be hanged this time, the prison staff fears that in case they make a mistake, it will be recorded in their service book, which will affect their service in future, including their promotions,” a source told ThePrint.
“It is essential that the execution goes smoothly, without any jerk. Trained hangmen know how much strength to use to pull the lever and at what time. Also, since they have been doing it in the past, their hands do not shake, which is extremely important to make sure that the pain inflicted on the convict is minimum.”
Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh are on death row for the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student on 16 December 2012.
Another accused in the case, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in prison, while the sixth accused was a juvenile and was released after completing his sentence at a correction home.
The last person hanged inside Tihar jail was Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru on 3 February 2013, and the hanging had been carried out by a member of the prison staff.
Hangmen need to be 5’6″ tall, govt certified
Tihar has written to the prisons department of Uttar Pradesh and two southern states, requesting them to send a hangman.
“There is an urgent need for a hangman, so we have written to authorities in UP and in the south for a hangman. We have earlier used services of two hangmen from UP,” a Tihar officer said.
The officer said the eligibility criteria for a hangman make it a bit difficult to pick the right candidate.
According to the jail manual, a hangman has to be 5 feet and 6 inches tall, should weigh 70-80 kg, and have strong arms.
“He has to be a trained hangman who is government certified. But since now there are very few trained hangmen left in India, there is a provision which says a jail staff can do the execution, if willing. In this case however, we will need a trained hangman,” he said.
The ‘black warrant’ process
The proceedings for the issue of a black warrant (death warrant) are initiated only after all the options of mercy petitions are exhausted, and this process could take a while yet.
In the gangrape case, Vinay’s mercy petition is still with the President, while Akshay’s review petition is pending in the Supreme Court. The top court has already rejected similar pleas filed by Vinay, Mukesh and Pawan.
If the two petitions are rejected, the process to issue black warrants will be initiated. The warrants will include the date of execution.
A 2014 Supreme Court ruling said there has to be a minimum of 14 days between the issuance of the black warrant and the execution, and that the lawyer of the convicts and their families will have a chance to meet them.
Last month, a mercy petition signed by one of the four convicts was sent to the Delhi government and Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, which was dismissed, and the file sent to the President’s office.
Vinay initially withdrew his petition but later submitted it. Now, as the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has also forwarded a rejection to President Ram Nath Kovind, he will decide on it and convey the decision to the Tihar jail authorities.
All convicts to be hanged together
A second source said the execution will take place in the ‘phansi kotha’ inside jail number 3, and all the convicts will be hanged together.
The phansi kotha is also the place where the bodies of Afzal Guru and Kashmir separatist leader Maqbool Bhat are buried.
The source said this could well be the first time that four hangings will take place simultaneously inside the prison.
“All the four convicts can be hanged together, as the wooden plank on which the convict stands is wide and strong enough for four persons. Only four separate nooses will be prepared and the executions can take place together,” said an officer. “This was thought of as it will be mentally traumatic for the convicts if the executions are done separately.”
The courtyard where the executions are carried out adjoins a high security prison. It is guarded round the clock by personnel of the Tamil Nadu Special Police.
In the last one week, the hanging area that usually remains shut has been opened three times — for cleaning, then for oiling and to check of the lever is working smoothly, and then for a mock hanging.
The second source said the approximate height and weight of all four convicts were given to Bihar’s Buxar jail and an order placed for a dozen ropes. Inmates of the Buxar jail are given professional training to manufacture manila ropes.
In the case of Afzal Guru, the rope was ordered seven years in advance and stored.
According to an officer posted in Tihar jail, the length of the rope is 1.6 times more than the height of the convict, and its thickness is proportional to the convict’s weight.
The officer explained that 67 per cent relative humidity in open air is a basic requirement for making manila rope, in addition to 6/20 yarn.
After the rope is manufactured, ripe bananas, butter or wax is applied on it for three days to ensure it is not slippery.
“We have received the ropes. A mock hanging has already been done to check the lever, the wooden plank and the ropes. The date of the execution is, however, not yet decided by the court. It will be mentioned in the black warrant that is issued,” the officer said.