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After the death rap: Nib-breaking, fasting and red robes

May 06, 2010 14:37 IST

Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist arrested during the terror siege on Mumbai in November, 2008, was awarded the death sentence by Judge M L Tahiliyani in a special court on Thursday.

There are many myths about the practice of awarding a death sentence to a convict. It is popularly believed, thanks to mainstream Hindi films, that the judge breaks his nib after pronouncing the sentence.

According to legal experts, the nib-breaking custom was followed by judges during the British era. Judges believed that a pen that has been used to take away the life of a human being should never be used again. But the custom was discontinued in post-independence India.

There is no rule for or against the practice of nib-breaking, but none of the judges follow it today, says C V Nagesh, an advocate from Bangalore who has argued in over 100 cases involving the death sentence.

During the British regime, judges also followed another interesting custom after awarding the death sentence -- they didn't eat for the rest of the day.

It is believed that only God has the right to take the life of another man. Since the judge had carried out a task beyond his God-given right, he should sacrifice his food for the rest of the day, was the belief behind the custom.

The judge also wore a red robe, instead of his usual black robe, on the day of the pronouncement of the death sentence.

But these symbolic customs are no longer followed by members of the Indian judiciary. 

Vicky Nanjappa