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 year1. This increase in DNA casework can be attributed to an upward trend in reporting of rape & sexual violence cases owing to public awareness and activism along with steps taken by the government to upgrade police and forensic infrastructure keeping women in mind.
While evidence from a recent study2 indicates that confidence building measures like the opening of all-women police stations has increased reporting of crimes against women by 22%, upgrading of forensic infrastructure at both central & state levels has also enabled more collection and testing of DNA samples by investigators.
Reinforcing the trend Vivek Sahajpal, Assistant Director, Himachal Pradesh State FSL said, “There has been a substantial increase in requests for DNA profiling and nearly 50% of the total crime cases we receive are linked to rape and sexual assault. To keep pace with the increased demand, we are now implementing new DNA technology upgrades that will help us bring down the number of unsolved crimes in the state.”
Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell—GA notes, “It is good to see India conducting more DNA tests to expedite justice but considering the scale of crime in the country, especially sexual violence against women & children, this only skims the surface. If a country is going to fight rape it needs to fully embrace forensic DNA, the gold standard of evidence. It identifies suspects and helps build rightful collection”.
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 year3. 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.
As per Delhi Police, five rapes took place in the capital city every day last year but the rate of conviction for rape has dropped from 34.5% in 2014 to 26.62% in 2016. A recent report released by the Praja Foundation on the ‘State of Policing and Law & Order’ shows sexual offences registered in Mumbai have been rising consistently and have jumped by 83% between 2013 and 2018.
Advocate Vivek Sood, Supreme Court points out, “Rape cases in India can be classified into false cases filed to settle scores and genuine cases in which the victims are brutalised physically and mentally destroyed. I have been observing the rising trend in false cases which tend to discredit even the genuine cases apart from wastage of investigative and judicial time. However, the silver lining is the growing use of DNA evidence to crack rape and sexual assault cases.”
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.
Emphasising on the need balance quantity with quality of DNA sample collection, Dr Harish Pathak, Head of Forensics, KEM Hospital, Mumbai says “85% of the DNA collections in India don’t yield viable results. There is a need to training and sensitization programmes for first responders and adherence to standard operating protocol for DNA collection.”
Internationally, DNA forensics is used as a standard operating procedure in cases of heinous crimes like rape and murder. Countries with a fraction 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.