Sunday 2 December 2012

The gallows of Bangalore

They are a reminder of certain death and they existed in almost all Central jails. Today, they are considered as a barbarian means of taking away a life and  only a few jails in India have them.
Called variously as a guillotine (wrongly), gallows  or a hangman’s noose, these structures inspire revulsion and deep fear. Imagine these structures standing mute testimony to the passing away of life.
An inheritance of the British system of dispensing justice, the gallows were an integral part of the Indian prison system. Till India gained Independence, the gallows were used liberally by the British to kill freedom fighters.
In Bangalore too, the gallows existed in the Bangalore Central jail on Seshadri Road. The gallows in this jail were used to hang many freedom fighters.
The gallows was also used after Independence to take away life of convicts whose mercy petitions were dismissed by the President of India. No wonder, even hardened prisoners turned away at the sight of the gallows.
Though the last hanging in Bangalore was in 1964, the gallows were never removed or dismantled Why, nobody knows. In the decades that came, the hanging of prisoners was undertaken a the Central Jail in Hindalga in Belgaum.  The last prison official who also officiated as the only hangman of the State was an employee of the Hindalga Jail.
The Prison authorities in Hindalga constructed a separate cell for convicts sentenced to death and called them the death row. Whenever any criminal was sentenced to death by the Sessions Court (Under the Indian legal system, only a Sessions court can award a death sentence) anywhere in Karnataka, he was bundled out of the jail he was staying to the Hindalga Jail.
The convict then would have the right to appeal against the Sessions Court order to the Karnataka High Court. The Sessions Court too would send the file regarding hanging of the convict to the High Court and this was called reference.
The High Court constituted a Division Bench (Two-judge bench) to hear both the appeal and the reference. Even if the convict did not appeal, the reference would have to be made as per the Indian Penal Code to the High Court.
The Bench would issue notices to the State (not the State Government) and it would ask the State Public Prosecutor (SPP) or a high law official to argue the case. In case, the convict did not engage any advocate, the Bench would appoint an amicus curie to argue the case on the convict’s  behalf.
The Bench would once again hear the case threadbare and each aspect would be minutely examined as the question concerned the life of a man. The Bench would then decided on whether to uphold the Sessions Court judgment or commute the death sentence to life imprisonment or any other punishment.
The case would then go to the Supreme Court and from there to the President of India. The President is vested with the power to pardon a convict even if he is given a punishment by the courts. This is because the President is also the head of the judiciary.
Once the President rejects the mercy petition, the case comes back to the sessions court which originally handed over the death sentence. It would then fix a date for the hanging and this order would be sent to the Jail Superintendent of Hindalga Jail and the State Government.
The State Government would issue a black gazette in which the name of the convict to be hanged would be published, The Jail Superintendent would then commence with the system of preparing the gallows.
All this system was followed in the Bangalore Central Jail till 1964, It was in this year that the killers of Belur Srinivasa Iyengar were hanged. After this, there was no other hanging in Bangalore and all the convicts given death sentence were moved to Hindalga
Today, nearly 50 convicts are waiting for their death in the death row cells. Among them are serial rapist Umesh Reddy (who was a police constable and he went on raping and murdering housewives brutally) and many members of the Dandupalya gang. The Dandupalya gang struck terror among Bangaloreans in the 1990s when they raped and murdered women in Bangalore. They slit the throat of women after raping them and watched them die.
One of the most celebrated cases involving the murder of a woman was the Shradananda case. Shradananda had fallen in love with Shakeela Khalili, the wife of former Indian envoy to Iran, Dr. Khalili. Shradananda had allegedly buried her in the portico of her house on Richmond Road in Bangalore.
The Sessions court and the High Court had awarded death sentence to Shradananda. The Supreme Court, however, said the case did not come under the parameters of “rarest of rare” cases and, hence, death sentence could not have been give,
It commuted the death sentence of Shradananda to life imprisonment. It laid down new norms on life imprisonment, saying that the State Government had no power to reduce the sentence from life imprisonment to 14 years by way of using its executive power.
What the ruling in the Shradananda case meant was that if a convict is awarded life imprisonment, it means he will be in jail till he dies and not for 14 years.
Though Shradananda escaped death, the others are still waiting for their turn. Their mercy petitions are with the President and nobody knows what will happen to them.
By the way, the death of Kasab, the Pakistani terrorist in Yerwara Jail in Pune, has renewed interest of people visiting the Central Jail in Bangalore about the gallows.
The central jail has made way for Freedom Park and the gallows along with a few structures remain to show to the people what the old jail looked like.
The gallows in Bangalore are in the corner of the vast park and it is away from the main building. It is small tiled structure but it can give you the shivers.
The Bangalore Central Jail was set up in 1867 and the setting up of the gallows too followed almost immediately.  A metal beam stands above a rectangular trench and the area is paved.
Visitors come and sit around the structure, oblivious of the dark history. There is a strong frame supported by wooden pillars with provision for two hangmen's knots. A metal platform separates the victim and a 20-foot deep pit where the convict would descend to certain death.
At the time of hanging, a sub-divisional magistrate, superintendent of police (prisons) and a district surgeon would have been present to witness the execution.
This is the system that was not only followed in Bangalore but at Hindalga where the last hanging took place in 1983. The last person to be hanged was Haunmanthappa Lakshmappa Mallya and the hangman was Kambli. Today, Kambli has retired from service and there is no official hangman in the State.
Hanumanthappa had brutally killed five persons and the brutality was such that the courts had upheld the death sentence. After the jail in Seshadri Road was closed down in 2001, all the prisoners- convicts and undertrials-were shifted to the ne jail in Parappana Agrahara off Hosur Road. This jail does not have any gallows.
The old jail is now Freedom Park. It was formally opened to the public in 2008 and it is located on 20 acres of prime land in the heart of Bangalore.
The idea of converting the jail into a park was conceived in 2004 though actual work started only in 2006. The initial cost of redoing the entire jail premises was put at Rs. 8 crores. When finally completed, it cost Rs. 10.27 crores.
The project was taken up by the BBMP which today maintains the  park.
The barracks and the hospital blocks have been retained as has the small watch tower and the gallows. The park is classified into six sections-general, museum, contemporary art, retail, performance, space and water section.
Five acres have been set aside for holding protests, rallies and dharnas.  The design to convert a prison into a park was taken up by Soumitro Ghosh and Nisha Mathew Ghosh of Mathew and  Ghosh Architects Pvt Limited. They were selected after they won a nation-wide contest in 2003 conducted by the BBMP and the Bangalore Agenda Task Force.
The park has a joggers track, children’s play area, book museum, jail museum and even an outdoor exhibition park. The park is worth a visit.

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