Facing the gallows


Hanging and shooting are the two methods of carrying out the death penalty in India and, according to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), hanging is the method of execution in the civilian court system whereas the Army Act, 1950, lists both hanging and shooting as official modes of execution in the military court-martial system. Just how abhorrent a death sentence is and how reluctant the law of the land is to hand it out can be seen by the fact that it took over seven years for the four accused in the heinous Nirbhayagangrape-cum-murder case to be hanged, as the law puts many safeguards in place to ensure that no innocent life is snuffed out. In fact, according to a study by the National Law University in Delhi, just 755 people have been hanged in independent India so far. All of them were men. Now, Shabnam from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh will have the dubious distinction of being the first woman convict in independent India to face the gallows.
Even though Shabnam's minor son has appealed to the President to pardon his mother, the Mathura jail administration is making preparations to hang the woman who had axed to death seven of her family members with help from her lover Salim in April 2008. The family's crime, if it can be called that, was that they did not want their highly educated daughter to marry an illiterate labourer. What made the crime so chilling was that the lovelorn couple did not spare even a 10-month-old child who could in no way have prevented their union. So deep was the impact of their horrific crime on the psyche of the locals that girls named Shabnam were given different names by their families after news of the crime broke out and spread like wildfire in the village and adjoining areas. Even her family has refused to claim her body if and when the hanging takes place. Shabnam is currently lodged in Bareilly jail while Salim is in Agra jail and, after years of appeals and mercy pleas, their day of reckoning is closing in.

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