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Shabnam v. State of Uttar Pradesh – A Case Analysis

Author: Aheli Ghoshal Student, Amity University, Kolkata


India is reeling with the news that a woman has received death penalty in India and that is going to be executed- for the first time in independent India. The woman’s name was Shabnam, a resident of Amroha. And she is going to be hanged along with her lover- Saleem.

The case is quite a remarkable case, considering the fact that a woman has received a death penalty and that is going to be executed for the first time in India. Question arises that why all of a sudden the court is so determined to award a woman with death penalty, considering the fact that in a country like India, women is personified as the one “who has a soft and tender heart, who is genuinely innocent inside and out and that she can never do a crime”.

So, what happened that Shabnam Ali, who has received a death penalty along with her lover Saleem?

 As per the facts of the case, Shabnam Ali and her lover Saleem had allegedly murdered all the members of Shabnam’s family, and they had not even spared a 10-month-old baby, who was Shabnam’s brother’s son.

Crimes do occur in India on a daily basis, and as per the statistics of crime in India, the rate is increasing. But however, not all crimes receive a death penalty. This article has tried to describe the facts of the case and its judgement and has tried to analyse the judgement as well. Moreover, it has pointed out the legal remedies which were available to the accused.


Shabnam lived with his family in Bawan Kheri, which is in Amroha. She used to live with his father, mother, brother, and his wife with their two children and another child, who was Shabnam’s father’s sister’s daughter. At that time Shabnam was 25 years old.

A highly educated person, where she had a double MA, Shabnam used to teach in a primary school for kids. Now, she was in love with a person called Saleem, who was a class 8 dropout. Now during their affair, Shabnam got pregnant. She told her father the news and requested her father to let her marry Saleem. But when her father rejected to do so, Shabnam and Saleem decided to create a horrific plan to kill all the members of Shabnam’s family.

On 14th April 2008, Shabnam reportedly mixed some sleeping pill in the dinner food of their family members. After all her members had fallen asleep, Shabnam called her lover Saleem and together they killed all the member of Shabnam’s family, by cutting their throat with an axe. They did not even spare Shabnam’s brother’s 10-month-old infant son and they strangled him to death.

After the incident, Saleem allegedly ran from the crime spot. But however, Shabnam did not do so and when morning came, she shouted that “a criminal has killed her family”. She claimed that at the night of 14th April, she was sleeping on the terrace. However, due to rain which occurred at that night, she came downstairs and it was at that time she discovered that her whole family was murdered. But however, after rigorous police inspections, it was revealed that Shabnam was lying and that she and her lover Saleem was the one who had killed all the family members.

The statement given by Shabnam proved that she was lying, because the bed sheets on which the victims were sleeping, where found to be deliberately crumpled. It is quite natural that the victim would have definitely tried to protect him or herself. But there was no sign of it in the whole house. Moreover, in the postmortem, some sort of drugs was found in the victim’s body and an empty strip of 10 tablets were found from the house as well. The inspecting officer had even found some blood-stained clothes of Shabnam which she was wearing at the time of the murder. Her phone records revealed that before the murder, she was in constant connection with her lover Saleem.

After 5 days of the murder, Shabnam along with her lover, were arrested and they were sent to Moradabad jail. Later, Saleem got shifted to Agra Central Jail. In December 2008, the then pregnant Shabnam gave birth to a son.


It was found out that both the accused, namely Shabnam and Saleem had turned against each other during the court proceedings. She claimed as per her Section 313 statement, that it was Saleem who had actually entered house from the roof and had killed all her family members, when she was fast asleep in the terrace. However, on the contrary Saleem said that it was Shabnam who had requested Saleem to go to her house and kill all her family members.

In the year 2010, the Sessions court of Amroha awarded a death sentence to both of them.

This decision was upheld by the Allahabad High Court in the year 2013, and by the Supreme Court as well in the year 2015.

The Sessions court of Amroha after that, ordered that the death penalty of Shabnam and Saleem must be executed as fast as possible and cited that it should be done within 6 days.


It must be noted that all though the Sessions court ordered the execution of death penalty of the accused as fast as possible, but legally this is not recognised. As per the “Supreme Court Rules, 2013”, any judgment made by the Supreme Court can receive a review petition within a period of 30 days from the date of commencement of the judgement. However, this was not done in this case. Here the court simply rejected the review petitions filed by the accused. Shabnam had even sought mercy from the Governor or the then President Mr Pranab Mukherjee, and said that she has some duty towards her son. Therefore, she must not be hanged. However, her mercy was rejected.

Next, Shabnam decided to file a writ petition in order to quash the death penalty.


The Supreme Court decided to re analyze the case through a bench consisting of Justice AK Sikri and Justice UU Lalit, and they decided to end the death penalty as given by the Sessions Court.

 The reason is that the execution order was not given by the Sessions Court as per the legal terms, where it is clearly mentioned that a review can be made by the accused within 30 days from the date of commencement of the judgment.  Supreme Court clearly observed that the “Right To Life” under article 21 of India’s constitution is available for the accused as well, and therefore they have a right to seek a review petition.

The Supreme Court referred the case of “Mohd. Arif v. Supreme Court of India”, where the court had held that all the accused persons who had received the death penalty, has the right to file a review petition.

It further said that the review petition must be heard in the open court by a 3- judge bench.

 Moreover, as per Order VI, Rule 3 of the “Supreme Court Rules, 2013”, it is clearly mentioned that in cases where a death penalty has been confirmed by the High Court and that a review petition has been made in the Supreme Court, then the petition must be heard by a bench comprising of not less than 3 judges.

Thus, the Supreme Court clearly mentioned that the death penalty of Shabnam and Saleem cannot be executed as long as the legal remedies exists with them.

Now, let us see what exactly are the legal remedies which are available to the accused.


  1. If a death penalty has been given by a lower court, it can be challenged in the High Court.

  2. If the High Court feels that the death penalty should be given, then as mentioned earlier, a review petition can be filed in the Supreme Court as per Article 137. Review petitions can be filed within 30 days from the date of commencement of the judgment. It must be noted that review petitions can be filed only when some new evidence has been found regarding the case, or when the court had made some mistake while providing the judgement of the case.

  3. Now, if the review petition gets rejected as well then comes the curative petition.

  4. If the curative petition gets declined, then comes the mercy petition, where the accused can seek mercy from the President under Article 72, and from the State Governor under Article 161.


Thus, in the year 2015, both Shabnam and Saleem filed a review petition at the Supreme Court. And as per the orders given by the apex court, it was analysed by a three-judge bench which consisted of the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justice SA Nazeer and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. The lawyers of the accused requested the judges to spare them, by reasoning that the accused were in their “good behaviour” during the proceedings of the case. However, the court rejected the plea, and said that good behaviour cannot be a factor for deciding the judgements of a case. The bench, after further analysis of the case concluded that –

“An innocent must not be punished, however a guilty should not be spared as well”.

Thus, the bench, after the review petition gave the same verdict again- Shabnam and Saleem must receive a death penalty. The court reasoned that the couple had heinously murdered 7 persons, including a 10-month-old infant.

Shabnam as her last try, has filed a mercy petition again, to UP State Governor Anandiben Patel, and the President Ram Nath Kovind, while preparations are going on to execute her death penalty.


Love indeed turned sour in this case, since both the lovers in this case, namely Shabnam and Saleem turned against each other during the proceedings of the case. So, the question arises, why did they even decide to murder the family members if ultimately at the end they were supposed to turn against each other? It is quite surprising that just for the sake of love the couple did not even think twice before murdering a 10-month-old infant, but however at the next moment they turned against each other and quite selfishly decided to save their own selves.

This case is quite an important case because this case proved that equality still exists in our country. No matter who did the crime, or how did they do it, or why did they do so, a person must receive the punishments for what he or she has done, be it a man or a woman.

However, I completely stand against the fact that the Supreme Court had supported the death penalty of the accused without considering the review petitions of the persons. This goes against the legal methods as provided in our country, and this is not at all deserved. Nonetheless, after the review petition of Shabnam and Saleem, which were analysed by the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, they did not move from their viewpoint, and continued to award a death penalty to the two accused persons. Now let us see if Shabnam’s new mercy petition gets accepted or not.


Kritika Garg, “Shabnam and Saleem case in the context of the Supreme Court”, September 14, 2020 published on ipleaders.

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