To Escape Poverty, Hundreds Vie To Become Executioners In India

Mock hangmen’s nooses hang during a protest demanding the death penalty for six men accused of rape CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALTAF QADRI
Mock hangmen’s nooses hang during a protest demanding the death penalty for six men accused of rape CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALTAF QADRI

With no one willing to kill its 16 death row inmates, the southern Indian state of Kerala has decided to offer 400 times more money to whoever wants to become the state’s newest executioner.

With executions a rarity in India, the low salary and dismal job description kept many from taking up the profession resulting in a nationwide shortage of hangmen. The government in Kerala, currently lacking anyone to fill the position, increased its pay for executioners dramatically hoping to find a sure fix to this problem. Over the weekend, the daily newspaper Mathrubhumi released a report detailing Kerala’s need for an executioner, and the lump sum it now plans on paying its hangman — — 200,000 rupees per execution, the equivalent of $3,330, an increase from 500 rupees, or just $8.33.

The response to the announcement was immediate; hundreds flooded the state’s central jails, associated departments and even the daily newspaper who first reported the news inquiring about the open position. According to the Hindustan Times, Kerala’s Central jail, which has the most death-row inmates in the state, received over 70 applicants, some showing up in person to deliver their applications. One man, desperate to escape crushing debt, pleaded with Mathrubhumi News to be given the job saying he would be willing to hang all 16 inmates at once, a stark indication that, for some, the new economic incentive far outweighs the job’s morbidity.

According to the most recent statistics, 363 million people, or almost 30 percent of Indian’s population, currently live below the poverty line. With the nation’s ‘poor’ being defined as rural families of five spending less than 4,860 rupees ($80) per month and urban families of the same size spending less than 7,035 rupees, many in the country feel those numbers are not an accurate reflection. Though Kerala is one of India’s less-effected regions, with a poverty rate of just 11.3 percent, the mass turnout to become the state’s next executioner indicates that those numbers would be significantly higher in other parts of the country if every state offered the same incentive.

With the death penalty carried out in only the “rarest of rare” cases in India, the position would not offer immediate remuneration for any of its applicants. Between 1995 and 2011, the country executed only two of its inmates, despite thousands receiving the death penalty. Following the highly publicized gang-rape and murder of a New Delhi woman on a bus in 2012, the country has regulated stricter anti-rape laws which now include the death penalty for repeated offenders and fatal sexual assaults, but no executions have been carried out yet under that statute. Since 2012, there have been two executions in India, both were of convicted terrorists.

The 16 death row inmates in Kerala will still able to commute their sentences, a process that includes appealing to the High Court, the Supreme Court, and petitioning President Pranab Mukherjee for clemency.