A peculiar situation has arisen in Tihar Jail, prior to the hanging of Nirbhaya’s four rapists. The hangman Pawan Jallad has requested his remuneration, currently fixed at Rs 25,000 per hanging, be increased on account of rising expenses. Currently, Jallad, who has five daughters, lives in a one-room house in Meerut and receives a stipend of Rs 5,000 a month from the Uttar Pradesh jail administration, presumably for being an official executioner. “Sirf fansi se jeevan chal raha hai,” he told IANS.
Jallad’s humble request is a consequence of a simple life that didn’t involve MBA classes in the slippery art of negotiation. Or he would have known he’s in a pretty good position to dictate terms. The rarity of executions (under 30 in India since 1991), suggests zero career prospects for potential hangmen. Hence, there is a serious paucity of executioners.
At this point, it is not a stretch to say Jallad is one of a kind. As any HR executive will attest, if you are number one even if it’s in a field of one, you can ask for whatever you want. It is a macabre task, slipping a noose around a neck, but someone’s got to do it. Jallad’s call to be compensated well, to do something nobody else wants to do, is perfectly reasonable.
Some years ago, Assam put out a nationwide alert for a hangman when a last-chance mercy petition from a convicted murderer was rejected by the President. It is remarkable that in a country where millions live below the poverty line, no one came forward to attempt this job and accrue the benefits of a monthly retainer, however paltry.
There is good reason that the post of an executioner in India appears to be an inherited one. For, where would a young applicant get the requisite work experience? You can’t have a novice sending a man to the gallows and risk goofing it up.
There is a presumption that Jallad would have picked up some tricks of the trade from his grandfather, who hung notorious criminals Billa and Ranga and two of Mrs Gandhi’s assassins. This grisly topic reminds me of when I accidentally ran over a squirrel and it ruined my day — it’s unimaginable what deliberately taking another human life feels like. Personally, to me, a hanging should be confined to lurid scenes from Game of Thrones. Not because killing another living thing is a sin, there are people who have done truly terrible things to other people, and don’t deserve to live. The issue is of human error and that we can’t trust governments and judiciaries to condemn accurately.
It is probably a sign of progress, that the younger generations of even those who hail from executioner families have no interest in pursuing this line of work. That said, there is not necessarily a contradiction between someone following our pervading philosophy of karma, and being resolute about performing their duties, whatever they may be. It is foolish to have compunctions towards some morbid-seeming professions just because humanity thrives within a false state of civility. Actually, forms of justice may have evolved but haven’t really changed since Biblical times.
Consider one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays Measure for Measure from the year 1604 that focuses on themes of justice, corruption and mercy and borrows heavily from the Bible: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Even the Bhagavad Gita propagates active resistance to evil, once satyam (truth), ahimsa (non-violence) and brahmacharya (self-restraint) fail. Jallad’s work is courageous. He carries the burden for the rest of the country to fear retributive justice.
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