An unusual job search began in India last month: The country of 1.2 billion is desperately seeking ... a hangman. The New York Times paints a fascinating picture of a country that is no stranger to grisly murders and honor killings, but one in which capital punishment is an extremely rare occurrence, where even prison officials will sometimes help prisoners draft appeals. About 50 people have been hanged since 1947, the last in 2004. But after one prisoner’s last-chance appeal was rejected, the state of Assam found itself in need of an executioner.
It looked to the state of Uttar Pradesh, which was known to have several hangmen. One had hanged one of the assassins of Indira Gandhi, but he died several years ago. Another had a broken arm. A third died May 19—but his son was interested in joining the family business. Officials promised to fast-track Pawan Kumar's application considering the need, but the Times notes that India is famous for bureaucratic delays and long lists of rules. Hanging is no exception: Even the length of the rope and construction of the gallows is regulated. So as Kumar waits, a glimmer of hope for the man he may be tasked with killing: an emergency motion arguing that forcing someone to wait to be executed qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. A judge has decided to consider the motion. (Read more India stories.)