Why Afzal was hanged at 8 am, Kasab half an hour earlier
While many saw the early-morning executions of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru as an attempt by the government to keep them secret, the fact is that the hangings could not have been carried out at any other time. Executions are mandated to be carried out only in the early hours, in fact before day-break.
A model prison manual prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development — slightly-altered variations of which are used by almost all states — is very specific about the timing of the execution. “The execution shall take place early in the morning before it gets bright,” it says, before adding that the “latest time of the day for different seasons will be in accordance with orders by the government”.
The jail manuals of Punjab and Haryana, for example, spell out the different seasonal times. Between November and February, execution has to be carried out at 8 am. In March and April, and then again in September and October, the time is 7 am. Between May and August, a hanging is to be done at 6 am. These are the times followed in Delhi as well.
This being February, Afzal was hanged at 8 am. Kasab was hanged at 7.30 am, but that was in Pune, and Maharashtra has slightly different seasonal times.
The jail manuals also specify in detail how to treat a prisoner on death row and how to carry out their execution. No execution can be carried out on a public holiday. In fact, one view was to hang Afzal on January 26 this year — the recommendation having been sent to the President on January 23 — but the provisions of the jail manual ruled this out.
The government has been criticised for not having informed Afzal’s family before the execution. The Home Ministry has clarified that Tihar jail officials sent letters by speed post to the family on February 7 and February 8, though it is clear these would not have reached them in such short time. The jail manuals incidentally make it mandatory to inform the family but are silent on how this is to be done and how many days in advance. The authorities are not bound either to verify if the information has reached the family.
Since the information did not reach the family in Afzal’s case, they did not have the opportunity to claim the body. ‘No-request’ was cited as the reason by the government for burying Afzal within the Tihar Jail. The jail manuals say that the body can be handed over to the family only if the prisoner’s relatives make a written application for performing the last rites and sign an undertaking that “they will not make a public demonstration at the cremation/burial”. The authorities can turn down the request if there is “likelihood of a public demonstration”.
Usually, a priest of the faith practised by the prisoner is allowed to be present for the hanging, but this too is subject “to the requirements of security and prison discipline”. Relatives of the prisoner and other inmates of the jail are not allowed to witness the execution, though social scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists etc can be present for the purposes of research.
In Kasab’s case, there was a gap of 15 days between the rejection of his mercy plea and the date of execution, while in Afzal’s case this gap was only five days. The manuals authorise the state government to fix the date of execution once the mercy petition is rejected and do not give a time frame for this.
Then there are elaborate instructions on arrangements to be made for the execution. The strength of the rope to be used for different weights and body types is specified in detail. So is the height from which a convict must be dropped. For example, a person weighing less than 45 kg needs to be dropped from a greater height, that is eight feet. For a heavier person, 90 kg or more, a drop of six feet is considered sufficient.
A new rope is not necessary for every execution but the jail superintendent has to ensure that the rope has been tested. “As a rule, a dummy or a bag of sand weighing 1.5 times the weight of the prisoner, hung and dropped between six and eight feet, will afford a safe test of the rope. Two spare ropes for each prisoner shall always be kept ready in reserve on the scaffold to meet any contingency,” the model jail manual says.