Nirbhaya rape-murder convicts to be hanged soon?

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Whispers about the imminent hangings of the four men convicted of the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder are getting stronger with each passing day. A heightened pace activities at jails and jail administrations in the country have sparked speculation about a significant development being in the offing in the nearly seven-year-old rape case that sent shockwaves through the country.

A jail in Bihar has begun preparing specialised ropes meant to be used to hang convicts sentenced to death in the country. The Uttar Pradesh jail department has put two of its hangmen on standby on the request of the Tihar Jail. Tihar Jail is where all the four convicts are lodged; Pawan Gupta, one of the four convicts and the only not jailed at Tihar, was recently moved there from a nearby prison.

And, the central government has recommended to President Ram Nath Kovind that a mercy petition filed by one of the four Nirbhaya rape and murder convicts be rejected.

All these developments have sparked intense speculation that the government is preparing to hang the four men in the coming days.

HOW THE SPECULATION BEGAN

The subject of when the four men convicted of raping and murdering the 23-year-old woman who came to be called Nirbhaya was revived days after a woman doctor in her mid-20s was raped, smothered and set on fire by four men in Telangana on November 27.

The brutal nature of the Telangana gang-rape and murder led to parallels being drawn with the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case. Debates around women safety focused on delays in the Indian judicial system with many pointing out that the four men convicted of raping and murdering Nirbhaya had not yet been hanged.

The question of how long would it take for the Telangana gang-rape and murder case to reach its conclusion was rendered moot on December 4 when the four men accused in the crime were shot dead by the police in what the cops said was an “encounter”.

However, with public discourse in the country once again focussed on the issue of women’s safety, the question of when the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder convicts would be hanged remained.

‘REJECT MERCY PLEA’

Around this time, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to Rashtrapati Bhavan recommending that a review plea filed by one of the four Nirbhaya rapists be rejected by President Ram Nath Kovind. Under Indian law, any person sentenced to die by courts has the right to appeal for mercy from the President as his/her last recourse.

The President seeks the opinion of the central government, which in turn asks for comments from the respective government of the state where the crime took place. And so, the mercy petition filed by Vinay Sharma — one of the Nirbhaya convicts — reached the Delhi government.

Early December, the Delhi government sent its recommendation to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs advocating that Sharma’s mercy plea be rejected. On December 6, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs sent a similar recommendation to the President. (Vinay Sharma would later go on to claim that he never signed the mercy petition.)

THE ROPE FROM BUXAR

What really got everybody talking about the imminent hangings of the Nirbhaya rape and murder convicts was news earlier this week that a jail in Bihar had begun preparing hanging ropes. Officers at Bihar’s Buxar jail confirmed that they had been asked to prepare 10 hanging ropes.

The Buxar jail is the only prison in the country with the required expertise to prepare hanging ropes, which must be durable enough to hold heavy weights and allow for instantaneous death of the convict being executed.

The Buxar jail has previously supplied the hanging ropes for the executions of the rape and murder convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the 1993 Bombay blasts convict Yakub Memon. Ajmal Kasab, convicted for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, too was reportedly hanged by a rope supplied by the Buxar jail.

The jail prepares the rope using a special variety of cotton sourced from within the country. Earlier the cotton used to be sourced from Manila, which is why the hanging ropes came to be called Manila Ropes. Now, prisoners at the jail manually prepare the ropes using local cotton; one rope takes around 2-3 days to be fashioned.

Buxar jail’s superintendent Vijay Kumar Arora told news agency PTI that he had been asked to ready 10 hanging ropes by December 14 but did not know where these ropes were to be sent. Arora added that the ropes do not have long shelf lives.

TIHAR HUNTS FOR HANGMAN

Within days of the news of hanging ropes being ordered from the Buxar jail came reports that the Tihar jail had begun looking for a hangman. The jail does not have a hangman on its payrolls and so, it wrote to the Uttar Pradesh jail department seeking help. Uttar Pradesh has two hangmen on its payrolls — one in Lucknow and the other in Meerut.

The chief of the Uttar Pradesh jail department confirmed a national daily that Tihar jail had sought the services of the two hangmen. “We received a request letter from the Tihar prison through fax on December 9 seeking services of the two hangmen of UP, as they do not have hangman there,” Anand Kumar, the director general of UP prisons, told Hindustan Times, adding that he had not been told the identity of the convicts to be hanged.

Meanwhile, Pawan Kumar Gupta — one of the four Nirbhaya rape and murder convicts — was moved to Tihar jail from the nearby Mandoli jail on December 10. The other three convicts — Mukesh Singh, Akshay Singh Thakur and Vinay Sharma — were already lodged at Tihar.

STATUS OF THE CASE

All these developments have sparked intense speculation that the hanging date of the Nirbhaya rape and murder convicts is near. But, what’s the status of the case?

The Supreme Court confirmed capital punishment for the four men in 2017. Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma later filed pleas asking the court to review its 2017 judgment. The Supreme Court refused.

Vinay Sharma, like we told you earlier, has filed a plea seeking mercy from the President. The central government has recommended the rejection of the mercy plea, which is now with the President.

And meanwhile, Akshay Thakur moved the Supreme Court this week, seeking a review of the court’s 2017 verdict. He was the only one of the four not to have filed a review plea until now.

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