Calling All Hangmen: India Can’t Find an Executioner for Its Death Penalty

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Rahul Irani / India Today Group / Getty Images

India's last hangman Mammu Singh at his home in Meerut's Shiv Mandir Colony on May 7, 2010.

With a population of 1.2 billion people, India can’t even find its very own personal Jack Kevorkian.

Make no mistake: there seems to be no shortage of farmers, businessmen and Bollywood movie stars among the world’s second most populous nation. There just isn’t a single professional hangman in the whole country left. How is the country going to pull off capital punishment, if there is no one left to do the actual execution?

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It just so happens, that for the first time in a long time, India’s president has unexpectedly rejected a petition from condemned prisoner Mahendra Nath Das. It’s time to slip on the noose —  if India can find someone to slip it on. India has strict regulations on who can be an executioner; not just anyone can apply for the grisly duty.

Executions rarely happen in India, despite having 345 people on death row in 2008. It’s often reserved for the “rarest of rare cases,” since convicted inmates are often successful with their mercy petitions. Since India became an independent nation-state in 1947, at least 50 convicts have been put to death – but only one person has been executed since 1995.

Where have all the hangmen gone? It turns out most of them have retired, disappeared or died. Not like they were many hanging about in the first place. (Pun fully intended.) We’re going to venture a guess that it’s probably not exactly a profession that inspires children on your average kid’s Career Day. So in the state of Assam, where Das awaits his fate, officials have started looking.

They started where it made sense, and put in a call to Nata Mullick, who officiated over the country’s last hanging. Turns out Mullick died two years ago. Then they went to the city of Meerut, to find a family of known hangmen. It turns out that Mammu Singh, the last known person eligible for the job, passed away in May. The other known living hangman currently has a broken arm.

Meanwhile, Das sits on death row while the wheels of Indian justice churn. If he’s lucky, they might just let him off the hook.

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