Hanging Is In The Blood

Mammu Singh


In May 2010 I went to photograph 65 year old Mammu Singh who was at that time one of India’s last official hangmen. This was in the context of an Indian court having just convicted Ajmal Kasab the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks to death on four counts. Singh’s home was in a small colony next to railway tracks in Meerut and while still trying to locate his house my driver and I passed a man walking the other way who was hunched over with something strange on his back. Turning in my seat to get a better look I saw that it resembled a weird stuffed animal, possibly a calf. I immediately asked my driver to stop quickly got out of the car and managed to get off a couple of frames with my Canon S90 as the man crossed the railway tracks and disappeared into an alley on the other side. It was such a macabre, unsettling sight that I remarked to my driver ‘I bet that was Mammu Singh’ and of course it was. When I met Singh he was an executioner of 30 years standing following on from and to begin with assisting his father Kallu Ram Jallad. He performed his first execution in 1973 and had notched up a tally of 15. He was permanently employed as a hangman in 1998 and has been stationed at Meerut’s Abdullapur jail ever since on a monthly sallary of Rs 3000 (around £40).  Together with his father he executed the assassins of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Before becoming a hangman Singh used to work as a rickshaw puller and also sold cloth in neighbouring villages. On the Kasab question he was emphatic about the prospect of pulling the lever ‘ it will be a great service to the entire country, the noose should be tightened around Kasab’s neck. Only then will the souls of those who died in the 26/11 attacks rest in peace. It is my ardent desire to be the one the Maharashtra government calls upon to execute Kasab’. But his wish was not to be as he died on the 19th May 2011 and along with him perished the explanation for the uncanny burden he was carrying that day. The New York Times used one of my pictures from this photo session to accompany a story by their correspondent Jim Yardley here.

Mammu Singh

Fast forward to Summer 2011 and hangmen are once more back in the news as, in May, India’s president unexpectedly rejected a last-chance mercy petition from a convicted murderer in the Himalayan state of Assam. Having no hangman in the state to carry out the sentence, prison officials were compelled to issue a nationwide call  for a hangman. Mammu Singh’s eldest son, 48 year old Pawan Kumar put himself forward. He now awaits certification as a hangman and if successful Kumar will be the fourth in as many generations of his family to hold the post and just possibly might fulfill his fathers grim desire regarding one Ajmal Kasab.

Pawan Kumar in his home in Meerut

See Andrew Buncombe‘s excellent piece in the Independent on the 15th September 2011 here

Pawan Kumar outside his home in Meerut, September 2011
Pawan Kumar

Method: 1/ Mammu Singh – one Nikon SB800 Speedlight with a CTO gel attached shooting through a brolly commanded by a Nikon SB900 Speedlight on the hot shoe of a D3s. For the outside shot I used one SC-29 extension cord to get the SB900 (also with a CTO gel fitted ) off the camera and hand-held to add some balanced fill in the left of the frame while still commanding the SB800.  2/ Pawan Kumar first two frames shot in natural light; third frame (above)- one Nikon SB800 Speedlight shooting through a brolly commanded by an SB900 on the hot shoe.

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