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Shabnam Ali was sentenced to death for killing seven members of her family in April 2008. Photo: Twitter

India prepares to execute Shabnam Ali, first woman since independence

  • Shabnam Ali and her lover were convicted and sentenced to death for killing seven members of her family in 2008
  • If the hanging in India’s Uttar Pradesh state goes ahead, it will be the country’s first execution of a woman since 1947
Prison authorities in India’s Uttar Pradesh state have begun preparations to hang a female inmate who has been on death row for 11 years, in what would be the first execution of a woman since the country’s independence from the British in 1947.

Shabnam Ali, 38, was sentenced to death for killing seven members of her own family in April 2008. A court found her guilty of carrying out the killings with her lover, Saleem – a high school dropout who worked as a day labourer.

The two were in a relationship and wanted to get married but Shabnam’s family of landholders was against it.

So the pair drugged Shabnam’s father, mother, two brothers and their wives before hacking them to death with an axe at their home in Amroha, about 380km from the state capital of Lucknow, the court heard.

The former primary schoolteacher, who was pregnant with Saleem’s child at the time, then strangled her 10-month-old nephew.

A lower court in Amroha first issued the death penalty to the pair in 2010, with the state’s high court in Allahabad later upholding the sentence. An appeal to India’s Supreme Court failed in 2015, and in 2016 then-president Pranab Mukherjee rejected Shabnam’s “mercy petition”. Last January, the top court also dismissed her plea for a review of that rejection.

This week, local media quoted prison authorities from the district of Mathura, which is the only facility in the country tasked with handling the execution of female convicts, as saying that they were preparing to execute Shabnam. However, the date of the hanging was not confirmed as the Amroha court had not issued her death warrant.


“We have placed an order for the rope and are just waiting for a fresh death warrant to execute her by hanging,” a senior Mathura jail official said.

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Local media also reported that Pawan Jallad, a prolific hangman who is said to receive a monthly salary of 7,500 rupees (US$103.50) for his services, had inspected the 150-year-old facility which is in a dilapidated state due to decades of disuse, as authorities are working on refurbishing the gallows. Jallad hanged the killers convicted of the gang rape and murder of a medical student in New Delhi in 2012, a case that outraged Indians and triggered mass protests.

Shabnam’s 12-year-old son with Saleem, named Taj, has made a last-ditch attempt to save his mother from the noose. The child, born in jail and now living with his foster parents, appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind to review the mercy petition and pardon Shabnam.

Supreme Court lawyer Sarthak Chaturvedi told The Times of India newspaper that Shabnam still had some options of legal recourse open to her.


“Shabnam could still seek another judicial review of the petition in the Supreme Court. She could also file a curative petition,” he said.

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Shabnam’s uncle told local media that he would not accept his niece’s body after her execution.


“We were not at home when the carnage took place. When we went there at around 2am, there was blood all around and the bodies were cut up. The crime was unpardonable,” he said.

Since India’s independence in 1947, most executions have been carried out in Uttar Pradesh.

The country’s most populous state has executed a total of 354 people, with the next highest number being Haryana with 90, and Madhya Pradesh with 73 executions, according to statistics from the National Law University in Delhi.


The figures show that in 2018 alone, India’s courts handed out 162 death sentences – the most in nearly two decades.