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Jewish World Review
June 27, 2011
/ 25 Sivan, 5771
The hangman doesn't cometh
India, a nation of 1.2 billion with a severe unemployment problem is having a difficult time filling a particular job -- an official hangman.
A hangman is needed for a condemned man in the state of Assam, but, according to The New York Times, which brought word of this bizarre development, a call for applicants went unanswered: "The nation's handful of known hangmen had either died, retired or disappeared."
Certainly it was not a job with great career potential. India's last hanging was in 2004. India imposes the death penalty sparingly and carries it out reluctantly, perhaps 50 times or so since becoming independent in 1947.
Prison officials pride themselves on helping inmates with their appeals. Given the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the Indian legal system, the 345 people on death row will likely suffer death by old age rather than the noose.
Hanging in the United States, once common, has died out, so to speak, with death by injection becoming the preferred means of legal extinction. The last public hanging was in Owensboro, Ky., in 1936 and was last used as a form of execution in Delaware in 1996.
The raucous proceedings surrounding the purportedly private execution in 2006 of Saddam Hussein, with American representatives conspicuously absent, were of course captured by cell phone camera and quickly posted on the Web. Even though Saddam was irredeemably evil, many found the circumstances of his death unnecessarily coarse and morbid.
Hanging has been well studied. There is the short drop, the standard drop and the long drop. Still, a lot can go wrong. The Internet will fill you in on the details.
Iran, which hangs a lot of people, including once a 16-year-old girl for some sexual offense, is said to use a variant of something called "the upright jerker," which sounds like something Iran would use.
Prison officials turned to a noted family of hangmen, one of whose members had hanged one of the assassins of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, but the Times said the last family member to ply that particular trade, Mammu Singh, had died in May.
But then hope, if not exactly for the condemned, appeared.
Singh's oldest son, Pawan Kumar, says he will apply for the job, telling the Times, "I just want to continue the family legacy. I'm the fourth generation. You don't see many volunteers coming forward. I'm serving my country."
In addition to carrying on the family business and doing his patriotic duty, Kumar would get a monthly retainer of $75, which has to sound pretty good to somebody whose day job is selling clothes from the back of his bicycle.
Nothing is simple with the Indian bureaucracy and, said the Times, there are "rules and protocols governing hanging." Do you suppose there's a licensing exam? Do you suppose the application form asks you to submit samples of your work?
Life sentences seem so much easier.
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