Can forensics provide answers?

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(People demanding arrest of Shopian rape and murder case culprits – Photo by: Bilal Bahadur)

Advances in forensic science can pinpoint the culprits in Shopian rape and murder case. Has the state, where autopsies have been a norm since eruption of violence, the available technology and expertise? HAROON MIRANI analyses.

As the investigation agencies strive to find the guilty in Shopian gang-rape and murders, medical fraternity in Kashmir has expressed their reservations in whispers over the way autopsy was conducted in Shopian.

Experts say that forensic science can be of help if investigation is committed and if there is a strong will. The first error in Shopian case was to get two junior doctors to conduct the autopsies of two bodies.  “Autopsy is indeed a specialised science which requires specialised doctors known as forensic pathologists,” said Dr. Shameem, who works at the SMHS hospital in Srinagar.

There is a laid set of procedures right from external examination of body to making incisions and re-stitching with precision, so that body retains minimum marks.

The viscera samples collected from the body have to be put in solution of 10 per cent formalin and sealed in presence of doctors with special numbers and signatures that are also recorded on a separate form. The samples are then opened at forensic science laboratory after verifying the numbers and signatures.

“If the viscera are not placed in 10 per cent formalin, the samples undergo autolysis and the FSL result can be inconclusive,” said Dr Shameem.

“I have done a number of such tests and in many cases I couldn’t find anything just because the samples were placed in water and unscientifically taken,” added another doctor in Srinagar wishing anonymity.

The big question is that whether all the procedures were followed in Shopian case.  For lack of experts, the autopsies conducted in Kashmir are not only invalid but also full of procedural lacunas.  “For example, poisons accumulate in higher density in various organs, so in order to ascertain the cause of death, those very samples are taken,” said Dr Shameem. “But here there is no care for those things, you get the body, get the organs in whole. It is sheer disgrace to the dead body.”

Forensic examination can prove time of the death, time of rape, number of perpetrators in a gang rape, cause of death and almost everything that had happened with a hapless victim, only when done by experts in a professional manner.

Crime scene Forensic examination extended to the crime scene can also lead investigators towards the guilty. In the Tabinda Gani rape and murder case in 2007, Handwara police had resisted stone hurling hostile crowds to seal the crime scene and gather clues and samples from the spot. The body of the victim was not removed from the spot until police had gathered required clues and samples.

Around the crime scene, investigators found a liquor bottles and other clues that suggested the nature of criminals.

In Shopian case, the spot wherefrom the bodies were recovered was neither preserved, nor utilized to gather any vital clues. Immediately after the bodies were recovered, investigators could even have used sniffer dogs to trace the original crime scene.

Can exhumation help?Inside the Tent bodies of Neelofar and Asiya being exhumed for forensic tests. Pgoto: Bilal Bahadur

With whatever the investigators have available so far, they have been able to establish rapes and murders. For more detailed leads, they may require more samples that can be acquired through exhumation.

The Commission says it can consider exhumation only if medical experts suggest that it can be helpful in providing more details than already available. “Although it will be difficult but it is not impossible to establish death, rape, injuries, organ failure from the exhumed body,” said Dr. Shameem. “The government will have to bring in specialists from somewhere else and investigate at a scientific level never seen before in the state or even entire India.”

The samples from exhumed bodies can be considered for DNA mapping that can help in identifying the guilty. Infrastructure Forensic Science or Forensic Pathology as it is originally called is a specialised science. The doctor who conducts a forensic examination is called a pathologist. But state has none.

“Many years ago one post of pathologist was advertised in GMC Srinagar but later that too was retracted due to unknown reasons,” said a doctor wishing not to be named. Even the GMC does not have any department for forensic pathology, where it could have offered post-graduate course in the subject.

Doctors rue that even after 1,00,000 killings in the last two decades, the government never deemed it necessary to have a full fledged department of pathology. “The pathology department in Kashmir would have surely become one of the best in India with so much data and research accumulated over the last two decades,” said Dr. Shameem. “Even our services could have been availed by other states like the way they seek guidance from our security agencies.”

Currently state has to send samples even for some basic testing to outside laboratories. Such laboratories could have been of immense help in a state where with around ten thousand missing persons the laboratories would have helped the investigations a lot.

How FSL can help?

The forensic science has advanced in recent decades. Nowadays DNA can be extracted from epithelial cells of the suspect’s hands transferred to the skin of the victim.

With the advance in DNA and forensic crime lab technology, the general consensus is that it’s almost impossible now not to pick up something left behind at the crime scene by a criminal.

There is consensus among medical fraternity on the opinion that the slightest human trace left at a crime scene can now lead to a conviction, following a new DNA test which relies on just one human cell. Even if he or she wears gloves, an offender’s DNA ‘fingerprint’ could be all it takes to get caught.

The latest tests could be applied to dandruff skin flakes, tongue cells on the backs of stamps, and smudges on steering wheels. Samples as old as 50 years can be analysed.

Tests can also be able to differentiate between semen in a mixed sample, such as that taken after a gang rape. The test uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA sequencing techniques which can test even a tiny or contaminated sample.

The DNA testing can also provide valuable clue in zeroing on the perpetrator. In some cases, the DNA test can even identify whether the criminal a local or from outside the state, because of the fact that DNA profile varies from race to race. It can even pin point the criminal if he or she belongs to the victims own clan, due to similarity in DNA structure of close relatives.

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