In a compelling debate on forensic DNA technology’s role in fighting crime, organised at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club–South Asia, forensic, legal, and policy experts attributed the rise in crimes against women in India to more reporting of cases rather than an extraordinary spike in violence. They observed that increased reporting was a positive trend based on awareness and activism resulting from popular movements like Nirbhaya and #MeToo, along with improving investigative & forensic infrastructure. However, experts cautioned that India, where more than 100 rapes are reported daily1 and only one in four of them sees conviction, DNA evidence was only being used in a fraction of cases and called for DNA collection & testing to be made mandatory in all violent crimes.
Advocate Vivek Sood, Supreme Court emphasised, “DNA evidence is conclusive evidence. It will enhance the credibility of India’s criminal justice system manifold. However, for that to happen, we need to have a better investigative machinery in place along with sensitization of the police and first responders across ranks. There is a need to make DNA testing & collection mandatory and an integral part of the investigative and legal culture in the country. In parallel, attention must be paid to building forensic infrastructure throughout the country in collaboration with the private sector.”
Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell—GA said, “Clearly awareness about the power of DNA technology has increased in the past few years. It has contributed to more reporting and we have seen DNA testing numbers goes up. India’s FSLs have also started talking to the government to fund upgrades and training to tackle backlogs. However, India is a country of a billion people and even 20,000 DNA profiles in a year is a drop in the ocean. I see immediate need for scaling that up by 10 times to 200,000. It’s evident that a lot more needs to be done by all stakeholders.”
Dr Vivek Sahajpal, Assistant Director, Himachal Pradesh State FSL noted, “Social stigma and resistance at every step discourages women from reporting rape. However, our experience in Himachal Pradesh shows that technologies like DNA can be very helpful in building public confidence and encouraging reporting. We have been consciously upgrading our forensic infrastructure and talking to people about it. The result has been a substantial increase in requests for DNA profiling over the years with nearly 50% of the total crime cases linked to rape and sexual assault.”
Drawing parallels with her country, Vanessa Lynch, Founder, DNA Project, South Africa said: “In my experience, raising awareness about DNA technology’s role in bringing justice is key and communities need to get involved in that effort. Reporting is one thing. What we also need to count is the number of rightful convictions and victims getting justice. A mandatory system helps institutionalise proper evidence collection, storage, and testing, which in turn instils more confidence in people to come forward.”
As per recent estimates, the number of DNA profiles developed from crime scene evidence has doubled over a year from 10,000 cases tested in 2017 to nearly 20,000 this year2. Despite an uptick in the number of profiles being tested, the volume remains low considering that nearly 40,000 case of rapes are registered every year1. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of crimes against women, which have increased more than 80% over 10 years, with only one in five cases resulting in conviction.
Forensic DNA has emerged as the most reliable crime fighting technology the world over. Many countries are effectively using forensic labs and protocols to collect, test and compare DNA at crime scenes with that of suspects with promising results. Where law machinery world over is increasingly relying on DNA forensics to solve crime, the pace in India has been slow. Lack of scientific methods in investigations and absence of a proper policy framework in the country continue to hamper justice.
Internationally, DNA forensics is used as a standard operating procedure in cases of heinous crimes like rape and murder. Countries with less than a tenth of India’s population like United Kingdom and Thailand complete DNA testing on over 60,000 and 10,000 crime scenes in a year respectively.
The public debate was jointly organised by Foreign Correspondents’ Club–South Asia and Gordon Thomas Honeywell–Governmental Affairs. The panel comprised of eminent speakers: Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, GTH-GA; Vivek Sood, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India; Dr Vivek Sahajpal, Assistant Director (DNA) State FSL, Himachal Pradesh; Vanessa Lynch, Founder, DNA Project–South Africa; S Venkat Narayan, President, FCC-SA; and Arneeta Vasudeva, SVP & Capability Head (PR & Influence) Ogilvy India
1 Crime in India 2016 report by NCRB
2 GTH-GA Estimates
Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs is globally recognised public affairs consultancy firm that has expertise with forensic DNA database policy, legislative, and law. For nearly twenty years, consultants at GTH-GA have consulted in over 50 countries and states on legislation and policies to establish or expand criminal offender DNA databases. GTH-GA collaborates closely with governmental officials, crime labs, police and the DNA industry. GTH-GA operates the DNAResource.com website that has been used as the world’s primary source for DNA database policy and legislative information since 2000.