Nirbhaya Case Hanging: How will four convicts be hanged in Tihar Jail simultaneously for the first time?

Tihar Jail – the largest prison complex in South Asia – is preparing to witness for the first time in its history the hanging of four convicts at the same time for the same crime. Run by the state of Punjab prior to 1966, Tihar Jail’s administration was transferred to the Delhi government that year, and it currently houses over 10,500 prisoners. Four of these prisoners, the convicts in the Nirbhaya case – Pawan Gupta, Mukesh Singh, Akshay Singh and Vinay Sharma – are to be hanged in Tihar in a few days.

What is the Nirbhaya Case? 

Six persons were arrested and charged with rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi in 2012, which came to be known as the Nirbhaya case. The horrific crime shocked the nation and beyond. One of the accused was a minor and was tried in the juvenile justice court. He was released after three years. Another accused – Ram Singh – allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail. The four others are to be hanged in a few days.

How are the Tihar Jail authorities preparing for the Nirbhaya Case Hanging?

While the date of execution has changed a number of times due to legal steps taken by the convicts, the event of execution of four convicts simultaneously is itself a first for Tihar Jail, or for any other jail in the country, at least after Independence. So far, a maximum of two people have been executed in central jails (executions take place only in central jails) simultaneously. How are the Tihar authorities preparing?

Sunil Gupta, former spokesperson and legal advisor of Tihar Jail, where he worked for 35 years since 1981, spoke to The Bengal Story on how the jail authorities prepare for the hanging, and what he has learned from his sources on how the preparations are on currently. He is also the author of the book, Black Warrant (written with Sunetra Choudhury, published by Roli Books). During Gupta’s tenure in Tihar Jail, the convicts who were hanged were:

  1. Billa and Ranga in 1982 (in the case of kidnapping and murder of siblings in Delhi in 1978)
  2. Maqbool Butt in 1984 (Kashmiri separatist leader, founder of the National Liberation Front)
  3. Kartar and Ujagar Singh in 1985 (killers hired by an eye surgeon to kill his wife)
  4. Satwant and Kehar Singh in 1989 (for killing then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi)
  5. Afzal Guru in 2013 (convicted for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack).

Gupta said that though four hangings simultaneously have never taken place, it is not a very difficult task to create the infrastructure for it. Two main areas are to be taken care of for this: one, the diameter of the well over which the hanging takes place needs to be increased, and two, the width of the wooden planks on which the convicts on death row would be made to stand should be widened. And that is what the Tihar authorities have done.

When two persons are hanged, one person is made to stand on each wooden plank. Now, with four persons to be hanged, two persons would be made to stand on each plank. But the actual task of triggering the hanging by pulling a lever, will remain the same: the hangman will need to pull only one lever and only once, which will complete the hanging of all four convicts.

The hangman & the disturbingly detailed measurements taken.

The period leading up to the actual hanging is a horrific and disturbing period even for those who prepare for it and those who will actually be present during the hanging. According to the prison manual, there are 10 constables, two head constables or an equal number of the prisoners’ guards, and the doctor who declares the convict dead who are present during the hanging. A jamadar or sweeper is also present for cleaning purposes.

According to Gupta, bags of sand weighing 1.5 times the weight of the prisoner are used for dummy hangings prior to the actual hanging. This process has been done several times already in Tihar Jail. Pawan Jallad, the hangman who has been called to Tihar from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, has conducted this process. Hangmen use their own specific methods for preparing the rope – and this is done by using wax, butter or mashed bananas. The length of the rope must be such that the drop of 1.8 metres to 2.4 metres takes place. This length is dependent on the weight and height of the prisoner.

According to Gupta, these details are taken from the prisoners to be hanged, like detailed measurements of their height, weight, height from the floor to the jaw and so on. Calculations on length and height of rope etc. are made from these measurements, so that the hanging can be completed at one go without anything going wrong at any point. Gupta said that though these calculations are done in details, much of it is ultimately the expertise of the hangman who does it on guesswork. Post-mortems are conducted after the deaths.

Sunil Gupta’s interactions with the Nirbhaya case convicts

In his book Black Warrant (written with Sunetra Choudhury, published by Roli Books), Gupta has written about the hanging procedure in detail and about his interactions with two convicts in the Nirbhaya case. [Read an excerpt from the book here] 

While Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide inside Tihar and one of the arrested was tried in a juvenile court for being a minor, four others including Mukesh Singh – are to be hanged. Gupta, in an article written for The Bengal Story had said that one of the convicts to be hanged — Mukesh Singh — had told him that he wasn’t involved in the gangrape. [Read what Sunil Gupta wrote for The Bengal Story]

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