Gujarat Forensic Sciences University calls for stepping up DNA evidence collect and test in India to combat expected surge in rape cases post Lockdown
New Delhi, June 01, 2020: Highlighting the ‘Role of Forensic DNA Technology in Fighting Crime and Expediting Justice’, an expert panel led by Dr JM Vyas, Director General, GFSU, came together to emphasise the need to build forensic DNA infrastructure in India. Taking note of the expected surge in crime after the COVID-19 lockdown, especially in sexual offence and rape cases, the initiative aims at equipping first-line responders in criminal investigation with a clear understanding of DNA forensic evidence ‘collect & test’ protocols.
Reports from the last two months indicate that after an initial dip, violence against women has steadily been on the rise during the lockdown period. The National Commission for Women (NCW) received more than 1,000 domestic violence complaints between March 25 and April 22, 2020. There has also been a significant increase in cybercrime against women, especially sextortion, during the with "caged criminals" have been targeting them online. The most alarming trend has been of rapes being committed by family, friends, and neighbours.
Authorities fear that the relaxation of restrictions on public movement will lead to a spike in sexual violence in the coming days and there is a need to arm the system with a robust forensic DNA infrastructure along with strict adherence to standard operating procedures. Experts agree that this would ensure speedy collection and testing of quality evidence from the crime scene, which would help expedite justice and deter crime.
Addressing the forum, Dr JM Vyas, Director General, GFSU said, “DNA profiling has become a very important evidence in the detection of crimes like rape and murder. This has not only simplified the process of investigation but has also helped speed up judicial trials. Considering its important role in crime investigation, disputed paternity/maternity cases, identification of unknown dead bodies and missing persons, the Govt of India has introduced a Bill in the Parliament for enacting the DNA Act. This will streamline the entire process of DNA analysis”.
Dr Pinky Anand, Additional Solicitor General India noted, “Reduced mobility, confinement within the household and lack of social connectivity during the outbreak has definitely reduced the number of reported incidence and there is bound to be a surge in the number of cases post the lockdown”.
“There should be a mandatory set of SOPs for the police and hospitals dealing with victims of rape and sexual assault, which should include collection of DNA evidence. Considering the importance of DNA evidence that is conclusive, the Government too, is trying to institute the DNA bill at the earliest. The matter still lies with the standing committee for discussion. Over the last two years, owing to the increased awareness levels on this subject, DNA crime testing has doubled. We must take care of two things, preserve the evidence in a rape case and second, demand for DNA testing. And if we can do this, we will be able to make this city, this country, a safe place for our women and children,” she added.
Sr Gujarat IPS Officer, Keshav Kumar, emphasised, “DNA has vast potential in convicting or even exonerating an accused and is a gold standard in forensic evidence. A plethora of biological evidences can be collected in rape cases from both the victim and the accused. The challenge is to collect such evidences as per the right forensic procedures. In rape cases, DNA can be the most cogent scientific forensic evidence for nailing the guilty”.
Addressing the apprehension over how the fear of being caught can encourage sexual predators to murder the victim and destroy the body to get rid of evidence, Kumar pointed out that killing and burning a victim’s body does not prevent DNA extraction and conviction of the guilty. There are good number of chances of getting biological evidences like skin cells, hair, and blood of the accused from the nail crevices of the victim. DNA can also be extracted from the charred bones. More so, a microscopic scrutiny of the scene of crime where the body was burnt would have many tell-tale signs to corroborate the bigger picture.
Sr Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Vivek Sood observed, “DNA evidence has definitely entered India’s criminal justice system. Nirbhaya’s case is a classic example where DNA evidence was used to hang the culprits of the gruesome rape-murder. More DNA is being lifted from crime scenes today than ever before, though it’s a long way to go for DNA evidence to become an imperative in all cases of sexual offences”.
Despite rising crime, declining conviction rates, and an unprecedented backlog of cases in courts, there is huge unmet potential for DNA casework in India. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of crimes against women, which have shot up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,356 in 2018 – a jump of 34 per cent. As per NCRB data, one woman is raped every 15 minutes in India, whereas only one in four reported rape cases result in conviction.
In contrast, the estimated 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 in 2019. Despite growth in the number of profiles being tested, the volume remains low, especially in crimes against women and children.
This virtual conference was part of an ongoing initiative #DNAFightsRape that was launched on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness for application of DNA forensics in expediting justice for women and children who’ve been victims of sexual violence.
The webinar presided by Dr JM Vyas (Director General, GFSU) constituted an eminent panel of experts including Dr Pinky Anand (Addl. Solicitor General, Govt. of India); Keshav Kumar (Senior IPS, Gujarat Police); Senior Advocate Vivek Sood (Delhi High Court & Supreme Court of India); Dr Vivek Sahajpal (Assistant Director, FSL Himachal Pradesh); and Arneeta Vasudeva (Senior Vice President & Capability Head PR & Influence, Ogilvy India). The session was effectively moderated by Sidharth Pandey (Senior Investigative Journalist).
The Gujarat Forensic Sciences University is the world’s first and only University dedicated to Forensic and allied Sciences. It was established by the Government of Gujarat in 2008 with an objective of fulfilling the acute shortage against increasing demand of forensic experts in the country and around the world. The University is state university approved by University Grants Commission (UGC) and accredited as A Grade by NAAC, MHRD.