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The clichêd Bollywood image of a jallad triggers another bout of laughter from Alhamdulillah. "Super-normal physique, thick bushy moustache, big mole on the cheek and a huge pot belly is how most people think of a hangman. And that monstrous killer look in their eyes scares me too. But I may be a disappointment compared to this imposing portrayal, " says one of the last hangmen in Uttar Pradesh.
Thanks in large part to pop culture platitudes;it's hard to believe that hands which hold the tasbeeh (rosary) and a mind that praises Allah all the time can make a perfect knot from ordinary hemp rope to kill a convict on death row. "For the last five years, I spend most of my time in the masjid. Whatever is left goes in reading newspapers and playing with my grandchildren, " says Alhamdulillah, a Lucknow resident, adding that people in his locality do not know about this shade of his personality. "I am a small-time toffee seller to most people, " he shares. But then why does he hide his other profession ? "Not everyone is intelligent enough to understand the seriousness of the responsibility I shoulder, " he smiles.
Alhamdulillah has a rather clear cut idea of his job and there is little room for amendments. "I do not fall into debates on what's right or wrong. All I know is that your deeds always come back to you. And my action of hanging a convict awarded the death sentence is on the right side of the law. I do not doubt the orders issued to me, " he said. The firmness of his thought process is clear in his body language as well. And Alhamdulillah is aware of his personality. He admits that his hands don't shake while doing the job, though there have been weak moments. "In the initial years, I felt restless on a couple of occasions. But then, I decided not to see the face of the person. I follow this till date. In fact, I time every step and the calculation is so perfect that the real action doesn't last for more than three minutes, " he says.
Alhamdulillah says that he remains as numb as the convict while executing his job. "To me, the convict is dead the moment he stands on the platform. And whatever life is left in him goes when I mask his face. But most of the convicts utter the names of the god they believe in while heading to the platform. Except for telling them to remember their god in their minds, I do not talk to them. If I don't do this, his tongue could get slit, adding to the pain of asphyxia, " he said.
As per law, a convict should be hanged for 30 minutes. But this hangman's skills are so good that the convict usually dies when the lever is pulled - if he doesn't flutter. "Even if he does, he would not survive for more than 10-15 minutes, " Alhamdulillah adds. He learnt the skills from his father who was a hangman in the colonial period. "I was a teenager, barely 14, when I started accompanying my father for the work. He taught me how to tie the knot. My father narrated stories of how in the pre-independence era, British courts used to give death sentences like freebies. He died while in service and I stepped into his shoes, " recalls the man. However, this son of a hangman doesn't want his children to follow the family tradition. "They have not been trained for this purpose. But then, every pair of hands and mind cannot take the pressure. They are happy living a simple life, " he says. But he's quite ready to pass on his acumen to another hangman, if required to do so by the authorities.
What if he got an assignment now? Answering this, he says, "Duty is duty and we all should fulfill it. But if given a chance, I wouldn't do it. " But why not? "Ab toh hamare pair kabra mein latke hain, ham kya dusron ko latkayenge, (Now, I am on the verge of death myself, how can I hang others?) " he replies.
Some reports have stated that Alhamdulillah was contacted to execute Ajmal Kasab. But he denies it. "I have been to other states to execute convicts, but he was someone else, " he states. On the debate over doing away with death sentence, Alhamdulillah comes down on the side of its necessity. "This is essential to give a strong message. And there are many more Ajmal Kasabs who need to be told that you should not dare to disturb us, " he reasons.
He adds that death by hanging is the best way to administer capital punishment. "In some western countries the convict is made to sit on an electric execution chair. But in that case, his body is charred which shocks the dear ones. Some other countries behead a convict. This too is a very painful sight for relatives, " states Alhamdulillah. "In hanging, the relatives are saved from the additional pain of a mutilated body. A mutilated body may even incite emotions of revenge which may pose a threat to the law and order situation, in case the convict is a big shot. "
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