New Delhi: Shabnam Ali, a death row convict in Uttar Pradesh, is on course to become Independent India’s first woman to be executed.
Shabnam is likely to be hanged at Uttar Pradesh’ Mathura jail — the only prison with a separate execution room for women convicts in the country.
However, the death warrant consisting of the date and time of the hanging is yet to be issued by an Amroha sessions court. Senior prison officials of Uttar Pradesh say they have reminded the court on at least two occasions.
The Supreme Court had upheld Shabnam’s death sentence in January last year.
She and her lover Saleem had been convicted of killing seven members of her family with an axe, after sedating them, including her 10-month old nephew on the intervening night of 14-15 April, 2008.
Saleem is also on death row and currently lodged at the Naini Central Jail in Prayagraj.
Awaiting death warrant
According to a senior UP prison official, Shabnam has exhausted her legal remedies, including late President Pranab Mukherjee rejecting her mercy plea in August 2016 and the Supreme Court dismissing her review petition and upholding the death penalty.
“She has exhausted her pleas. We had sent the apex court’s rejection order to the concerned sessions court (Amroha) immediately, but her warrant hasn’t come,” the officer said.
“The Rampur jail superintendent had written to the Amroha sessions court on 6 March 2020 after the top court rejected her review petition asking for a death warrant in Shabnam’s case. The jail superintendent again sent a reminder to the sessions court on 28 January 2021. Normally, jail superintendents don’t write to the sessions courts, it is not part of protocol, instead the lower courts are supposed to take cognisance of the top court’s order and issue the death warrant.”
Another senior jail official said, “There is some news about Shabnam’s file moving in the sessions courts now after the January reminder for the death warrant but officially we are yet to be notified about it.”
ThePrint reached Shabnam’s lawyer Shreya Rastogi, who refused to delve into details of the case. “We cannot comment at this stage,” Rastogi said.
Legal expert Anup Surendranath, however, said Shabnam still has legal remedies left. “The death warrant cannot be used unless Shabnam has exhausted all her legal remedies. Shabnam still has some of them left, including filing a writ petition challenging the rejection of mercy,” said Surendranath, who is executive director of Project 39A (criminal justice centre), at NLU Delhi.
“She can also file a curative petition on ground of errors in judgment or if the petitioner claims that he or she wasn’t heard,” he added. “In case a death warrant is issued, that can also be challenged in the top court.”
Mathura prison readies for execution
Authorities at the Mathura prison, however, are already preparing for the execution.
The onus of carrying out the capital punishment has fallen on Pawan Kumar, a fourth generation executioner, who was the hangman for the Nirbhaya rapists in Tihar jail last year.
He has already visited the Mathura jail’s execution room to take stock of the preparations. “The stage is set for her hanging,” Kumar told ThePrint. “The rope has been ordered from Buxar, Bihar, and I am just waiting for the date. I have gone to the Mathura jail to check the condition of the execution room — the lever and the ropes so that everything is in order.”
Kumar, who is posted at Meerut jail, told ThePrint that the only difference between the execution of a male and a female convict, is the “different execution rooms”.
The Mathura prison, built in 1870, is the only one in India with an execution room for women.
The only mention of this room in India can be found in the UP Jail Manual, 1956, which lays down rules for hanging women on death row, while also stating that only women can be hanged here.
However the execution rooms for both men and women remain similar.
Crime that led to capital punishment
Shabnam, along with Saleem, has been convicted for the murder of seven of her relatives.
She allegedly sedated the victims — her father Shaukat Ali, 55, mother Hashmi, 50, elder brother Anees, 35, and wife Anjum, 25, younger brother Rashid, 22, and cousin Rabia, 14 before killing them. She also allegedly throttled her 10-month old nephew (Anees’s son).
The two allegedly carried out the murders as her family objected to their relationship, primarily over their educational qualifications.
Shabnam, native of Amroha in Western Uttar Pradesh, is a double postgraduate in English and Geography. Saleem is a Class VI dropout.
According to the prosecution, on the night of 14 April 2008, Saleem had come to Shabnam’s house at Bawankhedi village and slit the throats of her kin with an axe as Shabnam held their hair.
Shabnam was seven weeks pregnant at the time of arrest, five days after the murder. Her son Taj, 12 years of age now, now stays with his foster parents Usman, a journalist, and his wife Suhina.
Jail manual mandates that a woman inmate cannot keep her children after they turn six years of age.
“She was shifted to Rampur jail only a year back from Moradabad jail,” the first senior prison official quoted above said. “She is normal and is quiet. It appears she is grateful that her son will have a good and normal life. But like all death row convicts, Shabnam too thinks that somehow her sentence will be commuted”.
This report has been updated to reflect changes in Anup Surendranath’s quote.