On February 18, Shabnam, a death row convict from Bawankhedi village in Hasanpur tehsil of Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh filed a second mercy petition with the President of India and Governor of Uttar Pradesh. On the same day, her 12-year-old-son Mohammad Taj appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind to “forgive” his mother.

If all legal remedies are exhausted, Shabnam will be the first woman to be hanged in independent India for a crime. Currently, Mathura jail has the provisions to hang a woman convict. Recently, the hangman in the December 2012 New Delhi gangrape case, Pawan Kumar was quoted by media saying that he had been to the Mathura jail to check the execution room.

Shabnam’s Story

Shabnam and her lover Saleem were convicted of murdering her seven family members in 2008. Shabnam sedated her father Shaukat Ali (55), mother Hashmi (50), elder brother Anees (35), Anees’s wife Anjum (25), younger brother Rashid (22) and cousin Rabia (14). After that, while Shabnam held them by hair, Saleem chopped their heads off with an axe. She then throttled the 10-month-old nephew.

Shabnam’s family was against her relationship with Saleem. While she belonged to the Saifi community, Saleem, a class VI dropout, belonged to the Pathan community. Shabnam, a post-graduate in English and Geography, worked as a shiksha mitra.

Shabnam and Saleem, both in their 20s, were arrested after five days. At that time, Shabnam was seven weeks pregnant and in December she gave birth to her son.

Shabnam And Saleem’s Contradictory Claims

Initially, Shabnam raised the alarm about the murder, claiming that unknown assailants killed everyone. Later, the couple turned against each other. Shabnam said Saleem killed everyone while she was asleep. However, Saleem claimed to have entered the house “only on the request of Shabnam” and when he reached there, Shabnam confessed to having murdered her family. When Shabnam’s son was being sent to foster care after seven years, Shabnam claimed that “people who had killed her family over a property dispute could harm him too”. Her son now stays with Shabnam’s college junior Usman Saifi, a journalist and his wife Suhina.

As per a 2016 report, 12 women are on death penalty in the country. All of them belong to “backward classes and religious minorities”.