Mr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
President of India
The Asian Human Rights Commission is concerned about the horrendous practices during forensic examinations at the government hospitals in the state of West Bengal, India.
At the Srirampur Government Hospital of Hoogly District, West Bengal, Mr. Ratan Dom conducts the autopsies (if one can call it an autopsy). Even though Dr. Gaffar is the forensic surgeon responsible for the examination of the bodies, in practice Mr. Ratan conducts the autopsy.
According to reliable information received Mr. Ratan is a government employee appointed for carrying corpses in the mortuary. He conducts the ‘postmortem examination’ with crude instruments like rusted knifes and hammer.
After the ‘postmortem examination’, the bodies are left without even suturing the incisions. The bodies are kept on open floor without any protection and they are left to rot in the open humid environment and it is common that body parts are eaten away by rats and dogs. The relatives of the deceased are to pay ‘extra incentives’ to Dr. Gaffar and to Mr. Ratan if they were to conduct a proper autopsy. It doesn’t mean that even if the ‘incentives’ were paid the autopsy would be conducted in scientific manner in terms with the legal procedures respecting the etiquettes. It only guarantees suturing of the body after the postmortem examination. The attached photographs show how the bodies are handled in this particular hospital. Information reviles that this is not the only hospital in which dead bodies are handled in such fashion. It is the general practice in all government hospitals.
The very inhuman nature in which the bodies are handled and left to rot is an indicator of human values in the state and how far they are enforced and respected. It is also a pointer to the depth of exploitation, torture, neglect and corruption. It also indicates how much priority is given by the state for prevention of crime and protection of rights within the state. It is also clear indicator of the resources earmarked for prevention of crime and administration of justice in a ‘welfare state’.
Torture is a crime and is one of the most heinous crimes against humanity. Callousness in handling dead bodies as mentioned above and exploitation of death is also a crime that comes under the ambit of the term ‘torture’ according to the UN Convention against Torture. India has abstained from ratifying the convention on the ruse that the domestic legislations within the country are adequate to prevent torture in the country. However the above facts paints a different picture.
The purpose of forensic examination is not only to find out the cause of death but is also a process which helps to do justice to the deceased and her/his family. In cases of suspicious death where the result of an autopsy is vital, one can imagine how far the purpose of justice is served in conditions as are prevailing at Srirampur Government Hospital.
Even if forensic examinations are held in proper manner the records are handled by police officers on deputation to courts. The unchallenged access to case records by the police officers on deputation to courts is yet another serious hindrance to delivery of justice in the state of West Bengal. This must end.
AHRC is aware that the Government of India is planning to restructure its criminal legislations in tune with the notorious Malimath Committee Recommendations. At this juncture it is pertinent to note the response from the Calcutta High Court signed by Mr. Nure Alam Chowdhury, J., Mr. Debi Prasad Sengupta, J., and Mr. Narayan Chandra, J. to the committee’s questionnaire.
Question. “7.6. Do you agree with the fact that Prosecution should place greater reliance on forensic evidence?”
Answer. “No. Too much of reliance on forensic evidence may lead to disaster. Man falters — sometimes machines falters dangerously, leaving no scope for rectification. But for detection of the criminals and not the crime forensic evidence may be used.” *
In the light of the existing facts, one may even wonder what is left to rely upon? It is a pity that the suggestions by the judges were more concerned of taking away the basic ingredients of rule of law like the right to silence and presumption of innocence. The judges also recommended that Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India should be amended, as it was considered as a stumbling block in criminal cases.
Where gross violations of basic human values happen in such proportions within the state and when the courts, government and other arms of the state ignore such violations and further permit it to continue no justice what so ever could be achieved.
Any attempt to restructure the legislations without addressing the basic facts and correcting inherent errors due to improper implementation of existing laws would only result in catering the interests of a government which foster the idea of building a police state.
AHRC urge the state government and the court
- To urge the Government of India to ratify the Convention against Torture and to adoption the convention at the domestic level thorough implementation of appropriate laws.
- To take immediate actions to conduct an impartial inquiry into the incident mentioned above and to put an end to the practice of callousness, exploitation and torture as carried out by Dr. Gaffar and Mr. Ratan.
- To take appropriate steps without any delay so that the Government Hospitals in the state are provided with enough resources to procure adequate equipments and personnel for proper discharge of their duties.
- To immediately end the practice of deployment of police officers in criminal courts in the state of West Bengal and to replace them with civilian officers.
Mr. Basil Fernando
Two photographs from the Srirampur Government Hospital, Hooghly, West Bengal. URL to the photographs:
1. The Chief Justice, Supreme Court of India
2. The Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court, Calcutta
3. The Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi
4. The Chairperson, State Human Rights Commission, West Bengal
5. The Home Minister, Government of India
6. The Home Minister, Government of West Bengal.
* Endnote. The reference to the detection of criminals indicates the positive attitude of the judges for polygraph test, which is another suggestive question in the questionnaire. Polygraph test is considered to be one of the most unreliable test for detection of crime due to its inaccuracy, whereas forensic examination in laboratory conditions is time tested and accepted in all jurisdictions worldwide.