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  • Writer's pictureLAWGIC STRATUM

Shabnam, First woman to be hanged in independent India: Legal status

Author: Busam Pushyami

Shabnam Vs state of Uttar Pradesh[i]


A case that started on 14th April 2008 shook the country. This is a story of Saleem and Shabnam. Shabnam, a Muslim girl, was a teacher in Bhawan Khedi village, Amroha District, Uttar Pradesh. Let us dive deeper into the facts of the case.

On the night of 14th April 2008, at 12: 15 Am, on hearing the screams of Shabnam neighbors reached her house and found out Shabnam lying unconscious beside the dead body of her father Shaukat Ali. 7 more dead bodies of her family members were also found in the house including a 10-month old child with their heads slit from the body. After gaining conscious Shabnam claimed that she was sleeping on the terrace and came down when it started raining when she found her family in the blood pool.

Later, on further investigation, police have confiscated one empty wrapper of bio pose tablets, blood-stained clothes of Saleem and Shabnam. Call records of Saleem and Shabnam were obtained and both appellant-accused i.e. Shabnam and Saleem were arrested.

Court Proceedings:

In the prosecution courts, it was found that Shabnam and Saleem were in a love affair out of which Shabnam got pregnant. When the family of Shabnam refused her relationship with Saleem, both appellant and accused planned the murder of Shabnam’s family. Shabnam gave sedatives to her family during dinner and called Saleem. Both of them have brutally killed her family and claimed that some unknown has killed her family.

The prosecution has proved the case and the trial have started under section 302 read with section 34 of IPC against Shabnam and Saleem. During the proceedings of the case, Shabnam in her statement has confessed that Saleem entered her house while she was sleeping and killed her family members. To counter that statement, Saleem said that it is only Shabnam who called him and gave him information to enter her house. However, it was proved that Shabnam and Saleem conspired and committed the murders. Both Shabnam and Saleem were convicted of multiple murders of Shabnam’s Father, Mother, elder brother, sister-in-law, cousin, younger brother, and 10-month old son.

Considering all aggravating factors like motive, conspiracy, manner of commission of the crime, the personality of deceased persons and their position and respect in the community, the conduct of Shabnam after the murder, and various other subsequent factors, Trial Court has declared that this Case falls under “the rarest of rare case” and the punishment less than death penalty cannot be awarded. The trial court has awarded death penalty in 2010.

Later on, in the appeal to High Court, the Allahabad High Court said that on a scale the aggravating factors are more than mitigating factors and the fact of Shabnam’s pregnancy and subsequent delivery is no ground to reduce the sentence. The case of Sevaka Perumal v. State of Tamil Nadu[ii]was quoted and said that having a minor child cannot provide a legitimate reason for not providing a death sentence when the crime is heinous and upheld the death penalty in 2013.

On a Special Leave Petition, the Supreme Court also upheld the death penalty. As soon as this decision of the Supreme Court arrived, the Sessions Court of Amroha has issued a death warrant with a period of 6 days. But, following the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 stating 30 days period to file a review petition should be allowed, the above warrant was quashed.

On a review petition, following order VI rule 3 of Supreme Court Rules, 2013, in case of death penalty confirmed by the high court, a bench of at least 3 judges should review the case. The Supreme Court has emphasized Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[iii] and Macchi Singh v. State of Punjab[iv]for reference. The Three judges’ bench of Supreme Court has identified and listed all aggravating and mitigating factors following the guidelines as laid down in Ram Naresh v. State of Chhattisgarh[v].

Article 21 is one of the important fundamental right. The Indian Constitution has guaranteed the Right to life and Liberty through Article 21 to every citizen except according to the procedure established by law.

Pertinently, for awarding Capital Punishment the crime should be “the rarest of rare case” and every possible way to not give capital punishment must be considered. The Supreme Court has also considered the statement “Life sentence is the rule, the Death penalty is the exception”. But depending on the brutality of the case and with reference to several cases, the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal and upheld Death Penalty in this case in 2015.

Filing of Mercy Petition:

Article 161 of the Indian Constitution allows Governor to grant pardons, reprieve, respite, and commute and remit the punishments. Thus, in 2015, Shabnam’s son, Taj, applied for a mercy petition to then Uttar Pradesh Governor Mr. Ram Naik on the ground of her responsibilities towards her son. The same was rejected by the Governor in September 2015.

Article 72 of the Indian Constitution allows the president to commute, remit, respite, reprieve, or grant pardon on filing a mercy petition. Mercy petition was filed to the president which was rejected by the then President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in August 2016.

After the decision of the Supreme Court in review petition in January 2020, a fresh mercy petition was filed by Shabnam to the president which was rejected in February 2021.

Final Status of the case:

According to the report of IANS[vi], if the date of hanging is declared, then Shabnam who is 38 years old now, will become the first woman to be hanged in the independent India. Till now, there is only one jail in Mathura to hang death penalty prisoners.


[i] (2015) 6 SCC 702 [ii] 1991 3 SCC 471 [iii] 1980 2 SCC 684 [iv] 1983 3 SCC 470 [v] 2012 4 SCC 257 [vi] IANS – Indo-Asian News Service

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