Thirteen years after she and her lover hacked seven members of her own family to death, while she is awaiting her turn to go to the gallows, 37-year old Shabnam may now be repenting for her sins. But fact remains that no home in the quiet Bawankheri village of Amroha district in Western Uttar Pradesh has since named any daughter, Shabnam.
Such is the contempt and hatred for the young woman, whose defiant, brutal, and cold-blooded crime left no room for clemency at any level. Her mercy petition was rejected by then-President Pranab Mukherjee in 2015 itself.
Now, when her death warrant is about to be signed, she has moved yet another mercy appeal to President Ram Nath Kovind, whose response is awaited. And even as this appeal has been made through her minor 12-year old son, there is very little hope of her getting a reprieve from the jaws of death. In her hanging, she would go down in history as the first woman to be hanged since India got independence in 1947.
People in Bawankheri have neither forgotten nor forgiven Shabnam and her boyfriend Saleem, who became an equal partner in the gory crime.
It was on the fateful night of 14/15 April 2008 that the Shabnam-Saleem duo chose to indulge in the slaughter game that left not only Shabnam’s mother Hashmi, father Shaukat, brothers Anees and Rashid, sister Anjum, cousin Rabia but even her 7-year old nephew Arsh dead inside her own house.
The reason for the bloodbath was not far to seek. Shabnam’s family was opposed to her relationship with Saleem, who was not only a married man but also a socio-economic mismatch for the woman’s family. Then 25, Shabnam was a post-graduate in English and Geography, while Saleem was a class V pass, working as a daily-wager in a factory. According to police records, Shabnam and Saleem decided to elope and get married. So she decided to mix some sleeping pills in the dinner that the family ate on the evening of April 14, 2008.
But two of the family members woke up, so Shabnam picked up the ax in the house and attacked them. Their loud screams woke up the others who tried to put up some resistance. But being partially in a daze on account of the overdose of sleeping pills, none could overpower Shabnam, who went about hacking every member of the family, one after the other.
According to the police, the screams went unheard by other villagers as Shabnam’s house was in one corner of the village.
Initially, Shabnam chose to stage a huge drama by wailing and howling, which drew the attention of the villagers. She found it convenient to plead innocent and sought to blame it on robbers, who she alleged, raided her house and killed everyone. She claimed that she was in the bathroom, so she went unhurt.
When the investigating team realized that nothing was stolen from the house, their needle of suspicion pointed towards Shabnam. And no sooner than the cops discovered that unmarried Shabnam was pregnant, they interrogated her further following which she confessed about her illicit relationship with Saleem. “Inquiries from other villagers revealed that her father and other family members were opposed to the relationship, which led the police to grill her further. Eventually, she blurted out the truth and confessed murdering seven members of her family”, a senior official at the police headquarters told OPOYi here Thursday. Shabnam’s call records confirmed her being in constant touch with Saleem, who also readily confessed his involvement in the multiple murder.
Eight months after she was jailed, Shabnam gave birth to a boy, and named him Taj. He grew up in jail where he was allowed to stay with the mother until he was six. Subsequently, a family from Bulandshahr decided to adopt him. The police confirm that now 12-year old Taj is a class VI student in a reputed Bulandshahr school and is living happily with his foster parents.
The foster parents, whom Taj addresses as “choti mummy” and “chote papa”, took him to meet his mother in Rampur jail, after her mercy petition was turned down by the President. It was then that her remorse became visible as she sobbed and sobbed, while repeatedly hugging her little boy.
Preparations are afoot in Rampur jail to shift Shabnam to the Mathura prison, which is equipped with 150- year old gallows for women. Hangman Pawan has been specially called to carry out the task. Saleem remains in Agra jail where he would be hanged.
"Even as nearly 13 years have passed, the memories of that gory night continue to haunt the villagers of Bawankheri," says Furqaan, former gram pradhan (village head). “Everyone in this village despises the very name Shabnam, who is a blot on us; no girl in the village has been named Shabnam in all these years”, he said, while adding, “the earlier she is hanged, the better; she must pay for her most foul deed.”