Monday 18 February 2013

Crime and punishment-The last days of a convict on a death row

Crime and punishment-3

Monday has come and almost gone and the fears of human rights organisations and the four members of the Veerappan gang that they would be hanged has proved to be baseless. Moreover, the Supreme Court of India has stayed the execution of these four till Wednesday.
It was really a little bit to much to read that several people made a beeline to the Hindalga jail in Belgaum when they heard radio, TV and newspapers announce the rejection of a petition by an advocate  before the Supreme Court seeking a stay of the execution.
Well, hanging a man is not so easy and a long and elaborate process has to be followed both by the judiciary and the jail authorities before a person can be executed.
Since death penalty involves taking away the life of a man, our Constitution fathers thought it prudent to put in place a series of  checks and balances to ensure that a person on a death row gets even a last chance for mercy or commutation of his sentence.
The power to commute a death penalty is therefore vested with the President of India and even this power is subject to judicial scrutiny. This shows the value that the Constitution places on a life in our nation.
Coming back to the issue of convicts on a death row, such persons are generally kept away from other prisoners. They have a separate cell and they are closely monitored and their health frequently checked. You see, they must be in good health id they are to be hanged and they cannot carry any serious injury to the hangman’s noose.
On the day of the execution, only a handful of officers will be present, including the superintendent of the jail, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent in charge and the medical officer.
The district magistrate (Deputy Commissioner) will depute an executive magistrate to attend the execution and countersign the warrant. In case the convict so wants, a priest of his faith may be allowed at the site of the execution but this is entirely at the  discretion of the superintendent.
The prison manual lays down an elaborate set of guidelines to be followed in such cases. It says relatives of the prisoner and other prisoners will not (stress not) be allowed to witness the execution. The Superintendent may, however, permit social scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and those conducting research to be present.
When the convict is being taken to the gallows, all other prisoners are kept under lock and key.
The night before his execution,  the prisoner will be provided with food of his choice. The next day, two hours before the execution, he will be woken up and asked to bathe. A fresh set of clothes are then provided to him and the moment is he is out of the cell, his face will be hooded and hands tied behind his back.
The manual says the prisoner, under no circumstance, will he be allowed to see the gallows. The prisoner will be made to walk through the passageway which is around 20 metres and this passage is covered in less than a minute.
Once the execution is carried out, the body will remain suspended for half an hour and taken down only once the medical officer has certified the prisoner as dead. The body will then be disposed off according to  the religious requirements.
In case the family members of the convict make a request in writing, the superintendent may hand over the body on the condition that no public display is made when the cremation or burial takes place.
Now let me come to the noose and the hanging knot
If the prisoner weighs less than 100 lb or 45 kilograms, he should be given a drop of eight feet or 2.5 metres and if he weighs between 100 and 133 lb (45 and 60 kg), he should be given a drop of seven feet eight inches or 2.3 metres. If a prisoner weighs more than 133 lb or 60 kg, but not more than 166 lbs or 75 kg, he should be given a drop of seven feet or 2.2 metres.
If the prisoner weighs more than 166 lb or 75 kg but not more than 200 lb or 91 kg, he should be given a drop of six feet 6 inches or 2 metres. If the prisoner weighs more than 200 lb or 91 kg, he should be given a drop of six feet or 1.83 metres.
All these are rigorously adhered to. Days before a hanging, the rope is tested with dummy sand bags which weigh more than the weight of the prisoner.
By the way, the last hangman in Karnataka was Siddappa Rayappa Kamble of Hindalga jail. After his retirement, the post of a hangman has not been filled up.
Siddappa joined the Prison Department in 1973 and the last execution in the State which involved him was in 1983. Since them there has not been any hanging in Karnataka though courts have handed over death sentences.
India has in all 309 death row convicts. Bihar tops the of prisoners on the death row with 80, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 72.
Maharashtra has 38 of them.
A recent report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) claimed that 1,455 convicts or an average of 132.27 prisoners were given death penalty every year from 2001 to 2011.
In its report called “The State of Death Penalty in India 2013”, the centre said the highest number of death penalty was imposed in Uttar Pradesh with 370 cases followed by Bihar (132) and Maharashtra (125).
Sentences for 4,321 people were commuted to life imprisonment with the highest number of commutation in Delhi (2,462) followed by Uttar Pradesh (458) and Bihar (343).

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