India searches for an executioner
A man in India who committed a gruesome murder has been handed a rare death sentence, but there is one problem - there is no hangman.
Mahendra Nath Das decapitated Hara Kunta with a machete as he sipped tea in Assam's capital Gauhati in 1996. He then carried the bloody head to a local police station and said: "I have killed him."
But it has been more than two decades since any convict was executed in Assam and with no qualified executioners remaining, officials in the north-eastern state are now scouring the rest of the country for a candidate.
In all of India, where the death penalty is handed down in only the "rarest of rare" cases, there have been only two hangings in the past 15 years. The conviction of Das 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, who 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 Kolkata jail for the rape and murder of a teenage girl.
Nata Mullick, India's most famous hangman, came out of retirement at age 84 to carry out that execution, earning 435 US dollars (£264) and a job for his grandson as a maintenance worker at the jail.
A third generation hangman, Mr Mullick executed 25 of the 55 people who died on the gallows since India gained independence in 1947.
But Mr Mullick died in 2009 and with the hangman's job a far from glamorous profession, and the work so sporadic, few have risen to take his place.