GAUHATI, India — Mahendra Nath Das was convicted of a murder so gruesome that India’s courts gave him a rare death sentence and the president rejected his plea for clemency. Only one thing is keeping him from the gallows: There is no hangman.
More than two decades have passed since any convict was executed in Assam, and with no qualified executioners remaining, officials in this northeastern state are scouring the country for a candidate.
In all of India, where the death penalty is only by hanging and imposed only in the “rarest of rare’’ cases, there have been two hangings in the past 15 years.
Das’s conviction for publicly decapitating a victim with a machete could make his the third.
“We have started the process of putting up the gallows,’’ said Brojen Das, the jailer of the prison at Jorhat, 190 miles east of Gauhati. The jailer shares a common regional surname with the condemned man.
But it is unclear when an executioner will be found to use it.
Prison authorities have written to their counterparts in the states of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal searching for a hangman, but have so far gotten no response, said S. Thakuria, Assam’s top prison official.
Qualified executioners — who know how to prepare the rope and tie the knot so as to cause a swift death — are scarce in India. The last hanging took place in 2004, when a security guard was hanged in a Calcutta jail for the rape and murder of a teenage girl.
The search could have implications for other death row prisoners, including Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, and Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 attack on Parliament that killed 14 people.