Rare execution in India prompts search for hangman

GAUHATI, India — Mahendra Nath Das was convicted of a murder so gruesome India’s courts gave him a rare death sentence and the president rejected his plea for clemency. Only one thing is keeping him from the gallows: There is no hangman.

More than two decades have passed since any convi

ct was executed in Assam, and with no qualified executioners remaining, officials in this northeastern state are scouring the rest of the country for a candidate.

In all of India, where the death penalty is only by hanging and imposed only in the “rarest of rare” cases, there have been only t

wo hangings in the past 15 years.

Das’ conviction for publicly decapitating a victim with a machete could make his the third.

“We have started the process of putting up the gallows,” said Brojen Das, the jailer of the prison at Jorhat, 190 miles (300 kilometers) east of Gauhati, who shares a common regional surname with the condemned man.

But it is unclear when an executioner will be found to use it.

Prison authorities have written to their counterparts in the states of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal searching for a hangman, but have so far gotten no response, said S. Thakuria, Assam’s top prison official.

Qualified executioners — who know how to prepare the rope and tie the knot so as to cause a swift death — are scarce in India. The last hanging took place in 2004, when a security guard was hanged in a Kolkata jail for the rape and murder of a teenage girl.

Nata Mullick, India’s most famous hangman, came out of retirement at age 84 to carry out that execution, earning $435 and a job for his grandson as a maintenance worker at the jail.

A third generation hangman, Mullick executed 25 of the 55 people who died on the gallows since India gained independence in 1947.

He would run repeated dry runs, using sandbags the same weight as the condemned prisoner. He waxed the rope with soap and ripe bananas and tied it with five knots, hoping his preparations would keep the pain to a minimum and ensure the prisoner’s head was not severed during the drop from the gallows.

“It’s an art: Your skills need to be honed,” Mullick said in a 2007 interview.

But Mullick died in 2009. With the hangman’s job a far from glamorous profession, and the work so sporadic, few have risen to take his place. Local media said there might be one or two hangmen still around nationally, including Mullick’s son, Mahadeb.

The search could have implications for other death row prisoners, including Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, and Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 attack on parliament that killed 14 people.

Mahendra Das’ crime traumatized Assam.

On April 24, 1996, he snuck up behind Hara Kunta as the rival official in the local transporter’s union sipped tea at a shop in a busy market in Assam’s capital, Gauhati.

With a swing of his machete, Das decapitated Kunta. Then he carried the bloody head by the hair to a nearby police station screaming, “I have killed him.”

Courts ruled that the public nature of the killing, combined with Das’ horrifying walk through the streets, warranted the death penalty.

Last month, President Pratibha Patil agreed, refusing a plea for clemency, and condemning Das to be the first person to be executed in Assam since a prisoner convicted of three murders was hanged in 1990.

Though there are no legal options left, his family continues to appeal for mercy.

“My son has already spent 15 years in jail, why kill him now,” Mahendra Das’ 75-year-old mother, Kusum Bala, told a local newspaper.

The victim’s family is impatient for the execution.

“There is no point showing sympathy to a killer like him,” Hara Kanta’s daughter-in-law Sarada Das said.

If no professional hangman can be found, prison rules would allow a convict to volunteer to carry out the execution, said Brojen Das, the jailer. No one has yet come forward, he said.

For now, Mahendra Das, 45, spends his days in a 6 foot by 12 foot (1.8 meter by 3.7 meter) prison cell, where he will stay until an executioner can be located, Brojen Das said.

“He is hoping against hope that somehow he can be saved,” he said.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist identified in fatal crash near Lake Stevens

Anthony Palko, 33, died Monday night after colliding with a passenger car. The juveniles in the car were taken to the hospital.

Police: Marysville man shot sword-wielding roommate in self-defense

The roommates were arguing over eBay sales, according to police. Then one of them allegedly brandished a two-foot sword.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Everett boy, 12, identified as Davies Beach drowning victim

Malachi Bell was one of three swimmers in distress Sunday in Lake Stevens. He did not survive.

Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

People gather to watch the Thunder on the Bay Fireworks from Legion Memorial Park on Wednesday, July 4, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Festivities abound in Snohomish County this Fourth of July

Here’s where to find local parades, street fairs and fireworks shows.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, gets the first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, from Elizabeth Smalley, right, a medical assistant at a Sea Mar Community Health Center in Olympia, Wash. Inslee's wife Trudi also received the first dose of the vaccine. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Governor wants to make vaccine mandate permanent for new hires

Jay Inslee also wants to require current and future state employees keep up with their shots, if they want to keep their jobs.

Sandra Oleson, center, holds up a “Protect Our Rights” sign and shouts for support from passing vehicles during a protest against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022, along Broadway in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Biden assures Inslee of federal support to preserve abortion access

In the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturning, the president and nine Democrat governors swapped strategies Friday.

Tulalip council members and tribal members watch as Governor Jay Inslee signs bill HB 1571 into law at the Tulalip Resort on Thursday, March 31, 2022 in Tulalip, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington launches new Indigenous missing person alert system

It’s similar to an Amber Alert. Tulalip families of the missing have called the program a good first step.

Jenson Hankins address the court during his resentencing at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Thursday, June 30, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Man gets reduced sentence for 2003 Marysville ambush murder

“I’ve wanted to apologize for a long time,” said Jenson Hankins, who was 16 when he killed John Jasmer near Marysville.

Most Read