Shabnam Ali, 38, who axed seven members of her family for stopping her from marrying her lover Salim Ali in April 2008, could go down in history as the first woman to be hanged till death in independent India.
A postgraduate in English and geography, Shabnam was a teacher in her village school in the Amroha district of Uttar Pradesh before she decided to kill her father, mother, two brothers, sister-in-law, cousin and a 10-month-old nephew. She and her paramour Salim have both been sentenced to death.
While there is talk of Shabnam becoming the first woman to be hanged to death in the country, there is an instance of three women from Maharashtra who have survived the noose even after being sentenced to death and their mercy pleas being rejected by the Supreme Court and the President.
Shabnam’s mercy petition has been rejected by the Supreme Court of India and the UP Governor and President Ram Nath Kovind, the last resort. As she has exhausted all the options available to her, Mathura jail was now being prepared for her hanging. Although the date of her execution is yet to be decided, the hangman Pawan, who last hanged the accused in Nirbhaya case, has inspected the lever and rope to be used in the hanging house meant for women. The rope, it is learnt, was being brought from Buxar.
Shabnam was two months pregnant when she committed the “rarest of rare” crime by first giving her victims sedatives. Her son Mohammad Taj, who was born in jail, is now 12 years of age. He was brought up by Shabnam’s friend Saifi. Taj has moved another mercy petition to the President seeking forgiveness for his mother. Taj last met his mother in jail on January 21.
Before Shabnam there were three other women who were sentenced to death but escaped the gallows. From 1990 to 1996 Anjanabai Gavit and her daughters Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde of Maharashtra were accused of kidnapping 43 children, forced them into beggary and later killed them. The state police was able to prove the murder of 13 children. The Kolhapur court sentenced them to be hanged till death in 2001. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence in 2014 and the same year the President also rejected their mercy petition.
Like Shabnam, these women were expected to be the first women to be hanged after the rejection of their mercy plea. While Anjanabai died in jail, the two sisters continue to live in jail. In 2017 their lawyer Sudeep Jaiswal had said that he “hoped to get their death penalty commuted to life in prison”. Will the plea by Shabnam’s son move the President to reconsider his decision?
A day after her son made an appeal to the President, Shabnam also moved fresh petitions for reprieve to Ram Nath Kovind and the UP Governor Anandiben Patel through her lawyer Shreya Rastogi who said that the convict still has "several constitutional and legal remedies" available to her.