Indias last surviving hangman has had enough of executions,having carried out an estimated 40 of them in several states.
In his mid-60s now,Ahmedullah wears a white beard and prays five times a day,spending his time between his house,the mosque in Lucknows Old City,and a small shop where he helps his sons sell candy and pan masala.
He hanged his last convict in 1989 and has no wish to resume now. As such,he has never counted himself in the reckoning for the task of hanging former Punjab chief minister Beant Singhs assassin,an execution now stayed by the Centre.
There is no desire for such a job now. My heart too has become weak, he says. And now the government itself has stayed the execution. He shows a newspaper report on the stay,having learnt to read Hindi though he never went to school.
But wouldnt the hanging fees have been of help? As we survive now,so will Allah provide in the future, he says,but admits the family is struggling. He earns Rs 3,000 a month as salary from the UP jails department,and the shop adds a little for a family that includes his wife,two sons and two daughters.
He has cataract in both eyes but cannot afford a surgery. Last summer,he fractured his wrist in an accident and could not afford an operation either. The doctors mounted a plaster on my wrist without fixing the broken bones properly. It ached continuously in the winter, he says.
Is it his bent wrist that has made him reluctant about future executions? No one forgets his art. I can do it even now, he says. I am just not interested in it.
Ahmedullahs father and grandfather too had been state executioners,a job he inherited in 1965,but his sons did not. One son says Ahmedullahs reputation was creating problems in getting the daughters married.
When I joined,there used to be six hangmen,four in Lucknow and two in Meerut,and all of them were busy all year, Ahmedullah says. He feels governments these days prefer to keep death sentences on hold. Everyone knows Ajmal Kasab is guilty but he will be kept alive on government funds for years, says Ahmedullah,who does believe in the death penalty.
He admits a tinge of remorse: Yes,I do feel sad,but I try not to brood over…those hanging bodies. I keep my mind focused on Allah. Yet he also reflects on his efficiency,saying when young he carried out hangings without help. I never faltered, he says,there would be no pain,death would be immediate. His last execution was in Assam,a state he was called to several times. His most memorable assignment was when he went to Delhi to execute Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh,convicted for Indira Gandhis murder.
He says some hangmen needed to down a few drinks to steady their nerves before a job. Ahmedullah preferred a movie.
He keeps the visiting cards of reporters who have interviewed him. Some newspapers published my address and since then people have been staring at me,though I havent done such a job for two decades. Asked to pose for a photograph,he hesitates,then agrees . It is not so bad a job that I cant get my face published, he says,as he heads for namaz.