There’s a new law on the anvil that will give the state sweeping powers to obtain, record and share genetic information if you are a ‘suspect’ in a case, a construct that is left to the subjective judgment of cops. In a triple murder case in Mumbai, the police suspected over 1,000 people all of who were genetically profiled. Many have lost jobs and face ostracism.

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY GAJANAN KHERGAMKER

Two-year-old Jagriti Patel was sleeping with her parents and brother on a south Mumbai pavement when she was kidnapped on October 20 last year. A police complaint was filed the same day, but for three weeks police couldn’t lay a finger on a shred of evidence. It was as if she had disappeared into thin air.

Then, on November 13, some slum children playing in a cluster of shrubs discovered a body. Jagriti’s body was lying barely 500 metres from where she had been “kidnapped”. There was little to see as the flesh had been scoured by sun and scavengers but a blue t-shirt and a few bangles told the tale.

The discovery sent ripples of fear among residents of South Mumbai’s Shiv Shastri Nagar who, despite homes in the adjoining slum, sleep on the pavement to beat the heat at night.

Kya guarantee hai ki aisa phir nahin hoga hamare koi bachche ke saath (What is the guarantee that something like this won’t happen again with one of our children?),” said Najma Khan, a 35-year-old slum resident and mother of two. The body samples were dispatched for forensic tests to the police lab at Kalina. The cops began to collect DNA samples from people on their suspects list to zero in on the culprit.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. As it is inherited, DNA is the best way of establishing parentage. At the same time, it has also become a key tool for the crime fighter, especially in cases of assault. If there is a trace amount of the assailant’s DNA on a victim’s person, police can use it to identify, or confirm the identity, of an assailant. That was what the Mumbai police were doing. They got results.

Within days, they arrested a local delinquent—a taxi driver and drunkard—and made public claims in the local media that they had caught the killer.

Just three months after Jagrit’s murder, on January 17 this year, three-year-old Karishma Chauhan, from South Mumbai’s Sassoon Docks, was kidnapped. Her body was discovered at the same spot as Jagriti’s, squarely contradicting police claims of having arrested the culprit.

The postmortem revealed that Karishma probably died after the first blow to the head, but the killer continued hitting her all over the body, resulting in over 50 fractures. The report said the killer bit off a chunk of flesh from the right arm, too. A sketch prepared on the directions of another girl whom “the killer had attempted to lure away” of a long-haired, bearded man circulated in the media and the residential area.

A group of women, all from the same community to which the child had belonged, approached police demanding justice. The situation looked likely to blow up. Police continued their investigations, without result. Public fear was being replaced by anger.

On April 9, police nabbed a man who was “luring a five-year-old girl with chocolate”. Police believed he was the serial killer even though he claimed he was kidnapping the girl to make her beg, and took fingerprints and blood samples to match against the evidence found on the bodies of the two victims.

On April 19, a case of kidnap was registered by South Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade police at 2 a.m. Septuagenarian Rani Fernandes found her two-and-a-half-year-old great granddaughter Angel missing in the night. She had tucked the child into bed with her at night. When she woke a few hours later Angel was missing. Her raped and mutilated body was discovered near the sea at Maker Towers in Cuffe Parade later the same morning.

This time police acted even more swiftly. Before Angel’s family had finished grieving, they marched in and ordered the males in the family to give DNA samples for testing. The family were outraged, saying this was an open insinuation that they were involved.

Police shrug off the charge.

“We are just doing our job…a DNA test that will lead us to the killer,” says a Cuffe Parade police personnel on grounds of anonymity.

“After the post-mortem, they forced us to bury the body within 15 minutes,” said Rani. After the public showdown following the second murder, police were in no mood to wait. Before things got out of hand, Angel’s body was buried and the family forced to disperse.

Police then began questioning the family about the sequence of events, individually and separately, on several occasions. Everyone was subjected to the grilling, from Rani—on numerous occasions, on the road, in her house and at the police station—her son, Angel’s grandfather James, Angel’s mother Suzan and stepfather Ashok.

Within days the police, capitalising on the mother’s second marriage, dismissed the murder as a family issue that had no relevance to the prior killings. They suggested that Angel’s father had committed the crime to “get even with his wife”. Later, they had to eat a humble pie when he returned from his hometown to contradict all claims.

So, on to the inevitable next step, the collection of DNA samples of all and sundry, both the fathers-biological and stepfather; the grandfather, even the grand-uncle. They detained the grandfather and forced a confession of rape and murder of his granddaughter, a confession that allegedly came out of the police’s strong-arm tactics.

Interestingly, among the suspects was Ravindra Kantrole, also known as the “Beer Man”, picked up and DNA-tested at Nagpada Police Hospital. The tests were negative. Kantrole has threatened to proceed against police for contempt of court for treating him like a suspect like the “Beer Man” he was charged with being for years.

Kantrole was arrested by Mumbai police in connection with a series of murders in 2006-2007, in which the killer left a beer bottle next to his victims, all street dwellers. In the trial that followed, he was acquitted of all charges by the Bombay High Court in 2009. Kantrole feels police continue to hound him and implicate him in some offence or the other, and plans to charge them with contempt of court.

“Even after the Honorable Court acquitted me of all charges, how can the police continue to treat me like a serial killer?” asks Kantrole. “They tell me that ‘Court ne chod diya na? Hamari nazron mein toh tu hi gunehgar hai’.” (The court may have left you, but in our eyes you are the culprit,)

The police collection spree has resulted in a haul of over 1,000 blood samples of “suspects” in the three cases for DNA profiling. The suspects include orchestra players, cooks, drivers and fishermen. What made this extremely diverse pool of individuals suspect in the first place? Police can’t, or won’t, say, but the selection seems to have been random, based on whoever may have been near the scene at the projected time.

“We have been working very hard on these cases and collected over 1,000 samples for DNA tests,” says Senior Inspector Janardhan Kharat, Cuffe Parade in-charge, refusing to divulge any more details. Local police, asked about the issue, are swift to boast of the thousand, treating it as a sort of achievement. Now they’re busy trying to find a match for the two separate foreign DNA samples on two of the three victims.

It’s a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Chances of the killer being nabbed through random DNA tests seem remote but police seem quite happy at the prospect. In fact, Mumbai Police have written to the state home department that the state-run Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Kalina be provided with sufficient chemicals required to conduct the tests. This happened after the officers probing the murders told superiors investigations were affected as DNA tests were taking too long.

“Numerous reminders to expedite results of suspects have proved futile. We are always told chemicals used to identify DNA are in shortage. So we have sent a letter to the Home Department,” said a police officer who does not want to be named.

So far so good, but when the DNA test results are produced as evidence in court, there will be problems. The defence could raise issues of consent and coercion that will affect the prosecution.

In their frenzied enthusiasm to “take DNA samples” city police missed the implications of Section 53 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.  The section relates to the examination of accused by a medical practitioner on the request of a police officer.

It clearly maintains that: “When a person is arrested on a charge of committing an offence of such a nature and alleged to have committed under such circumstances that there are reasonable grounds for believing that an examination of his person will afford evidence as to the commission of an offence, it shall be lawful for a registered medical practitioner, acting at the request of a police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector, and for any person acting in good faith in his aid and under his direction, to make such an examination of the person arrested as is reasonably necessary in order to ascertain the facts which may afford such evidence, and to use such force as is reasonably necessary for that purpose.

“Whenever the person of a female is to be examined under this section, the examination shall be made only by, or under the supervision of, a female registered medical practitioner.

(a) “Examination” shall include the examination of blood, blood stains, semen, swabs in case of sexual offences, sputum and sweat, hair samples and finger nail clippings by the use of modern and scientific techniques including DNA profiling and such other tests which the registered medical practitioner thinks necessary in a particular case.”

It also explains that “registered medical practitioner” means a medical practitioner who possess any medical qualification as defined in clause (h) of section 2 of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and whose name has been entered in a State Medical Register.

Here, in this case, the “suspect” is not arrested and the use of force is absolutely ultra vires and in direct excess.

The defence will, when the opportunity arises, surely tackle the issue of “consent arrest” and “good faith” which, in their predictable absence, will weaken the case.

Taking more than 1,000 blood samples of a population for DNA testing to pinpoint a killer seems a bit excessive, on the face of it. Nor was consent sought in even one case. Beyond this, however, what happens to the person whose blood is taken testing? How is his life affected?


Let us take the case of Angel’s family. Consider Albert, Angel’s grand-uncle. He had to give a blood sample for a DNA test because “everyone had to do it”.  He has since found himself facing ostracism within the residential colony and among his own friends for “suspicion of having committed the crime”. There’s no other reason to believe he committed the crime, but people are suspicious simply because he’s been tested.

Angel’s grandfather James had a temporary job at a bank in Nariman Point as a house-keeping assistant. He lost it. “I had to keep going to the Cuffe Parade police station where they would ask me the same questions again and again, even force me to confess to having committed the offence or get my mother—Angel’s great grandmother—to confess having ‘sold’ the child to the rapist-murderer,” says James.

“Which place will keep a police suspect in the murder and rape of a child? I was told very politely that there was no more work for me and that they would call me if needed,” James sighs. “Obviously, who would want to keep a ‘suspect’ at work?”

Angel’s other grand-uncle Dexter, who has a wife and daughter dependent on his income, also had to take a DNA test and put through the regular grilling over and over again. Every passing day, he would be either called to the police station or asked for his whereabouts on the phone as if he were guilty.

“I had to leave my job in a multinational bank where I worked as office help,” Dexter says.

“Police would keep calling me over to the station and ask for my version of the event…even if I suspected anyone…over and over and over. That I lost my job and developed health problems doesn’t matter to them at all… they still come to my house to ‘question’ me,”’ says Dexter who is finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Suzan, too, was hounded day and night outside her house, on the road, at work. She almost lost her job and is struggling to keep things together. “If I switch off the phone at work, they have a problem with it,” she rues. “The police insist, ‘kabhi bhi bulayenge tab hi aaneka’. (Whenever we call, you got to come)Suzan is at her wit’s end. Despite suffering an irreparable personal loss, the family finds itself on the receiving end. It’s as if they committed a crime complaining to the police.

Just like the Fernandes’, many of others and their families, working as part-timers or on temporary basis in the area, have lost work and continue to face incessant discrimination owing to the arbitrary DNA testing and constant police badgering.

“Why would I keep someone whom police suspect of being involved in a murder?” asks 44-year-old Colaba resident Sangeeta Chandiramani. She has changed three housemaids from the same slum, all of whom complained their husbands were being called over and over again to the police station for ‘questioning’ on the crimes. “I’d rather keep someone who has no background of this sort. Even an association with the police is suspect… the next thing I know is that they’d be looking for my maid suspecting her of having committed some crime,” she says.

This random testing and questioning has had an unintended effect. The burden of proof seems to have shifted decisively, at least in the public eye. Whatever the courts may say, the stigma attached to being called for a DNA test has serious consequences. There’s no accusation, no charge, but the social sanctions begin from then onwards.

In court the prosecution must prove the accused’s complicity in the crime, but on the street this arbitrary testing has shifted the burden of proving innocence entirely on the victim. A DNA test is simply an investigative process but people have a habit of jumping to conclusions. So the individual being tested is guilty till the results of the test arrive and prove his innocence.

The best of tools can become a weapon in the wrong hands.

Local politicians are mum on the slum-dwellers’ plight, for obvious reasons. They work closely with police to “free their workers” nabbed in petty offences and need to keep on their right side. “Every day, I deal with the police and can’t alienate them,” says a politician who doesn’t want to be named. “We need to work closely with them.”

So people like Albert have no real option. They’re tagged even though they’ve done nothing wrong. And they suffer in silence because no one speaks for them. What a contrast with the uproar in March when some Indian students in the US were made to wear radio collars. The outcry could be heard all the way to the Potomac, and the National Human Rights Committee intervened to “protect” their human rights.

Mass screening is not a new phenomenon. One of the first uses of mass population screening was in the UK, in the “Pitchfork” case (1987) in which police collected blood samples from over 5,000 local men to identify the perpetrator of two rape-murders. The actual offender tried to persuade a friend to provide a blood sample on his behalf. The friend reported this to police and the offender was identified. They did find the needle in the haystack.

In April 2000, police in New South Wales, Australia, used a mass screening programme to identify the suspect in the sexual assault of an elderly woman in the town of Wee Waa. Its entire male population between the ages of 18 and 45 was asked to volunteer DNA samples.

Most of the 600 men in the town volunteered their samples. The offender too gave his sample but confessed to the crime before it was analysed.

The technique has also been used by Australian investigators on a smaller scale to eliminate certain suspects from an investigation.

Mass testing can be effective in excluding the innocent at an early stage of a criminal investigation but raises concerns about undermining of the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination—important protections in a criminal process.  There is also a fairness test which the mass test fails to pass, as evidenced in a 2008 decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

DNA profiling was initiated by the UK, the first to establish a criminal justice DNA databank. On February 17, 2008, a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) heard a complaint that DNA profile retention in criminal justice databanks violated the right to privacy and family life.

The 17 judges delivered a unanimous decision on December 4, 2008.

The court found that the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples, and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences, failed to strike a fair balance between competing public and private interests and ruled that the United Kingdom had “overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation” in this regard. (emphasis added)

Oblivious of this danger, a National DNA databank is being proposed in India on the UK pattern. That the ‘blanket and indiscriminate nature’ of the power to retain fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences was wrong is laid down by the European Court of Human Rights but ignored by India. Police excesses, the charge laid by Mumbai’s rape-murder “suspects” and the “indiscriminate, almost overwhelming” DNA testing, vindicate the European Court of Human Rights in an alarming way.

It is pertinent to note here that the US Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), 2008 prohibits American insurance companies and employers from discriminating on the basis of information derived from genetic tests. The fact that the US found it necessary to enact such a law underscores the fact that genetic information facilitates discrimination. DNA profiling is undesirable as forensic DNA developments are linked to changes in legislation and contentious issues of privacy, civil liberty and social justice.

The Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill 2012 to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament supports the ideology of genetic determinism, with almost infallible faith in the technology of DNA data banking.

The Bill provides for the procurement of “intimate body sample”, which means a sample of blood, semen or any other tissue, fluid, urine, or pubic hair, a dental impression; or a swab taken from a person’s body orifice other than mouth obtained through “intimate forensic procedure” namely (a) an external examination of the genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female breast; (b) the taking of a sample of blood; (c) the taking of a sample of pubic hair; (d) the taking of a sample by swab or washing from the external genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female; (e)  the taking of a sample by vacuum suction, by scraping or by lifting by tape from the external genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female; (f) the taking of a dental impression; (g) the taking of a photograph or video recording of, or an impression or cast of a wound from, the genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in  the case of a female.

The dangers of such a data bank are numerous. For one, predictive uses of a DNA databank cannot be ruled out given scientific advancements and a readymade DNA-based reference, questioning the very impartiality of a criminal justice system.

A colonial Identification of Prisoner Act, 1920, already provides for the collection of sensitive biometric data like fingerprints with the permission of a magistrate, but on acquittal it is mandatory to destroy the data. The present draft bill is thus both intrusive and draconian.

Ironically, there is a section in the Bill that allows for volunteers to give DNA profiles, as if anyone would “volunteer” to share sensitive data with the government. Incidentally, even the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had initially claimed that enrolment based on biometric data was voluntary but it went on to be explicitly mandatory.

The myth that DNA profiling is infallible continues to sway the police, public and, to an extent, the legal machinery in India. There is much evidence to the contrary. Nine years ago, Washington hairdresser Andre Chreky was charged with a paternity suit, and agreed to a DNA test. Chreky who had stopped dating the plaintiff years before she gave birth to the boy, now a teenager, was certain he’d get a clean chit. A month later, LabCorp, one of the largest paternity testers in America and the state of Virginia’s exclusive contractor said in its report: “The probability of paternity is 99.99 per cent.”

Chreky went to court to have it overturned. The fight lasted two years. When it ended in May 2005, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David T Stitt not only ruled in Chreky’s favour, but also raised serious questions about the reliability of DNA testing to prove paternity, guilt, innocence and more.

In 2010, the state of Illinois fired its DNA lab, Bode Technology of Fairfax County, Virginia, for failing to detect semen in 11 out of 51 rape cases. At another murder trial in Michigan, prosecutors acknowledged a DNA test on evidence from 1969 matched one who would have been four years old at the time of the slaying and couldn’t possibly have been involved. Additional tests led to a second man, who was convicted.

In Las Vegas in 2001, a man spent a year in jail after being wrongly accused of two sexual assaults. Investigators later found his DNA sample had been switched with another inmate’s.

The element of human error has always existed in all forensic sciences. The problem is not the technology, but with the people who use it.  They make mistakes, they are careless, but to get the justice system to admit their fault is one of the hardest things on the planet.

Legislation on matters such as DNA profiling is about balancing individual rights with the needs of law enforcement. DNA evidence may be offered in criminal proceedings by the prosecution or the defence. The prosecution may indicate a match between a DNA sample found at the crime scene or on the victim and one taken from the defendant, and show how unlikely it is that the sample could have come from anyone but the defendant.

The defence may rely on DNA evidence to help acquit a suspect. There are, however, issues about the reliability and accuracy of evidence and whether a particular piece of evidence is admissible. For instance, in New South Wales, Australia, evidence derived from forensic samples and not taken in accordance with the Crimes (Forensic Procedures) Act 2000 (NSW) is not admissible in court.

Also, DNA evidence is scientific expert evidence which requires interpretation, throwing open the possibilities of human error and manipulation, apart from the reliability of past and current testing techniques, contamination (accidental or otherwise) of samples, and the qualifications of the person interpreting the test results and providing evidence in court. Sometimes the mistake can be pretty basic.

In one Australian case, a forensic laboratory omitted to analyse certain DNA samples taken from a crime scene. It led to a wrongful conviction. It was only after the defence insisted all DNA samples be analysed that it was shown the convicted man should have been excluded as a suspect. Then, too, datatbases are open to corruption.

A Freedom of Information Act request showed that the UK DNA database (over 4.5 million records) contained numerous errors. Between January and November 2007, 1,450 demographic discrepancies were discovered, spelling errors, date taken amendments, force code amendments, and crime codes.

In August 2007, the UK government admitted that more than 550,000 records had wrongly recorded or incorrectly spelt names. In May of that year, it stated that over a 10-year period (1995 to 2005), some 26,200 DNA records were not loaded, resulting in 183 undetected crimes.

Another potential cause of false matches is mislabelling of samples.  It’s led to false incriminations in California, Nevada and Pennsylvania. In New South Wales, police incorrectly transferred forensic data to the wrong criminal cases in police computer records, which on two occasions produced false DNA database matches that led to people being incorrectly charged with a crime. One man was convicted before the error was discovered.

Then there’s misinterpretation of test results, more common than believed. Laboratories sometimes mistype (i.e., assign an incorrect STR profile to) evidentiary samples.  If the incorrect evidentiary profile happens to match an innocent person’s profile, injustice may result.  A false cold hit of this type occurred in a Sacramento, California, rape case. A male DNA profile was developed from a swab of the victim’s breast.  The profile was searched against a California database.  The search produced a “cold hit” to the profile of a man in the Sacramento area, but the resulting police investigation raised doubts about his involvement.

A laboratory supervisor reviewed the work of the analyst who had typed the evidence sample.  The supervisor determined the analyst had “made assumptions reading and interpreting the profile of the breast swab sample that were incorrect” and “had interpreted the profile as being a mixture of DNA from a male and female, when in fact the mixture was of two males.”

Cross-contamination of samples is another worry. It happens due to accidental transfer of cellular material or DNA from one sample to another and is a common issue in laboratories.

The case of Brian Kelly, a former police officer convicted of rape in Scotland in 1989 is a good example. The victim was familiar with Kelly and didn’t believe he was the rapist but when evidence that semen left by the rapist matched Kelly’s DNA profile, the jury convicted him. Kelly maintained his innocence and asked a number of experts, including most prominently Dr Simon Ford from the United States, to review the case. It later turned out that the laboratory ran Kelly’s reference sample in a lane immediately adjacent to the semen stain on an analytical gel, a dangerous practice given the potential for lane-to-lane DNA contamination.

In 2004, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to Scotland’s High Court of Justiciary.  The High Court reviewed evidence about the danger of cross-contamination of DNA samples in 25 circumstances like those in the Kelly case, and found it to be “evidence which is of such significance that the fact that it was not heard by the jury constituted a miscarriage of justice.” Kelly’s conviction was quashed.

In Washington State, US, the police laboratory accidentally contaminated samples from a rape case with DNA from the reference sample of a juvenile felon.  The juvenile was identified through a database search but could not have been involved because he was only a child when the rape occurred.  According to the lab’s Contamination/Extraneous DNA Log, “it was determined that the felon’s sample was being used as a training sample by another analyst” when the rape case was being analysed. Similar errors, leading to false database matches have been reported in Broward County, Florida, in New Zealand and in Western Australia.

The most famous case of a ‘cold hit’ was in the murder of a toddler named Jaidyn Leskie who disappeared in 1997 while in the care of his mother’s boyfriend. The body was found in a reservoir six months later, with a crushed skull, and the boyfriend charged with murder.  But the case was clouded by the discovery of DNA from an unknown woman in what appeared to be bloodstains on the toddler’s clothing.  In 1998, the boyfriend was acquitted.

In 2003, the unknown DNA was matched, via a database cold hit, to a young “mentally challenged” woman hundreds of miles away who had never left her village. Police could find no way to link the young woman to the toddler’s murder and at first dismissed the cold hit as an “adventitious” match.  It was a seven-locus match and the estimated frequency of the matching profile was 1 in 227 million.

The Victoria State Coroner, reviewing the laboratory records, established DNA from the woman had been processed through the same laboratory about the same time as the toddler’s clothing.

The woman had allegedly been the victim of a sexual assault involving a condom. Her DNA, extracted from the outside of the condom, had been in close proximity to extracts from the toddler’s clothing.  But laboratory personnel continued to maintain that accidental transfer of samples between cases was impossible. Against that argument is the following case.

In 2002, while investigating the 1969 murder of University of Michigan law student Jane Mixer, the Michigan State Police Crime Laboratory in Lansing found the DNA of two men on her clothing.  The profiles matched two Michigan men, Gary Leiterman and John Ruelas.  But there was a problem—Ruelas was only four when Mixer was killed and had been living with his parents in another city.

In addition, there is the worst case scenario, when DNA is deliberately planted to frame someone or take the blame from someone. An accused serial rapist in Milwaukee tried to convince authorities that another man with the same profile was responsible for his crimes by smuggling his semen out of the jail and having accomplices plant it on a woman who then falsely claimed she was raped. If someone in authority (not too bizarre a possibility) decides to collaborate, there will be no way out for the accused. Finding semen samples isn’t that difficult, when you consider the discarded condoms in hotel rooms, and in waste discarded by regular homes.

Also, there’s overwhelming DNA presence in restaurants, waste-bins, hotels, public spaces, so collecting samples and planting them in crime scenes could easily deflect police from the trail of the actual perpetrator.

If the legal machinery takes DNA evidence to be the equivalent of a magic bullet, as the police seem ready to do, and it matches your sample, available in a database, you might be convicted of a crime that you were not even aware of, let alone committed. Far fetched? Just consider the foregoing and think about the possibilities.

That is why, if we don’t plug the loopholes today, with the Human DNA Profiling Law round the corner, we’d be asking for trouble.

Useful in identifying the dead

According to the information obtained from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) by Dr Shamsher Malik, the number of unidentified bodies found in the year 2005 was 39,157, for 2006 the figure was 36,131 and in 2007 it was 37,282 indicating, on an average, 102 unidentified bodies are recovered every day across the country.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam shared the concern of petitioner Shamsher Malik who worked as a Junior Resident in the Department of Forensic Medicine, MaharajAgrasen Medical College in Hissar, Haryana. Malik termed the method adopted by the police to unravel the identity of unclaimed bodies as faulty. Normally, an advertisement would be given in a local paper which may not reach the families staying in far-flung areas.

The doctor suggested mandatory DNA profiling of unidentified bodies and matching them with those family members who have registered missing persons’ reports with police stations.

What is profiling?

“DNA fingerprinting” or “DNA profiling” was initially developed in the mid-1980s and is now a common tool used by law enforcement authorities. It is a mode of identification testing and is undertaken differently to other forms of genetic testing.

DNA profiling involves the creation of a profile from specific sites on the “non-coding” or “junk” sections of the DNA molecule (the parts of the DNA molecule that do not provide genetic information). These sections are unique for each person and profiling techniques involve examination of only a small part of the 3.3 billion subunits. The number of sites (or loci) examined depends upon the system used—the most commonly used system in Australia is “Profiler Plus”, which examines nine loci. The greater the number of loci examined, the more reliable the test results.

DNA evidence is used also in relation to past unsolved crimes. The use of this technology does curb civil liberties. Hence, in Australia, each State and Territory and the Commonwealth in relation to federal offences, has legislation regulating the taking of forensic samples for investigative purposes. In India, even before the code is cleared by Parliament, the enforcers are attempting interpretations of applicable sections, never mind if they’re quashed later in court.

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