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Tuesday 14 February 2012

INDIA: Rotten corpses symbolise a fallen system

February 14, 2012
A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
INDIA: Rotten corpses symbolise a fallen system
Rotten and maggot-ridden corpses lie scattered in compounds; dogs, crows and other rodents run around with human body parts; tables made of broken wooden planks where putrefied human bodies are cut open by Doms (members of a Dalit community known in India for dealing with dead bodies) with crude tools like a chisel or nail hit hard with bricks used as hammer; human viscera samples lying in unsealed unmarked bottles and plastic containers, with its contents half or completely decayed. These are some of the blood chilling and appalling conditions of what in India is termed a forensic examination. The Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been for the past decade reporting that the facilities for forensic examination in India is so appalling that the process today in most parts of the country is nothing less than an inhuman, unscientific and manipulative process that serves no purpose, in law or for science.
A video documentary prepared by MASUM on autopsy procedures in the states of West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Bihar, which is released today, is available here. The shameful condition of the state of affairs followed in the process is so pathetic that it symbolises a rotten criminal justice system that no country could ever tolerate as long as it tries to uphold the rule of law. The process documented negates every conceivable excuse, acceptable in administrative process or in law or for that matter in science.
A forensic examination is an inevitable part of criminal jurisprudence and investigation. The documentary sheds light into the indisputable and alarming fact that a proper forensic examination is almost non-existent in the country and further that the entire process is open for manipulation at all levels. The fact that more than 60 percent of the country's 1.2 billion strong population cannot expect - should they be unfortunate that their body be subjected to a forensic examination due to death from unnatural causes - that a proper procedure acceptable in law and science would be undertaken is as alarming as such a procedure does not exist in the country. What they could expect is their body be left to rot for days, if not weeks, and cut open by a Dom in such inhuman manners in perhaps an open ground near a broken shed what is called a mortuary building. What their relatives could expect is the left over of such crude dissection and parts of human remains left over by dogs and other natural scavengers, in a putrefied or horrifying form.
The entire process documented from the four states named above also shows the criminal disregard of the government to the entire process to what in many parts of the world is considered as a specialised science. The issue attracts a high level of attention given the fact that in India the number of extrajudicial executions and other forms of custodial deaths are on the increase during the past decade. It is shocking to realise that these reports prepared by doctors, who often do not see the dead body is one of the important documents and opinion the courts would depend to acquit or convict a person.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued specific guidelines on post mortem examination procedures to be followed in cases of custodial deaths. The guidelines require the autopsy procedures be video recorded. Had the NHRC been on receipt of such videos, and had they bothered to view them, the deplorable practices as depicted in the documentary could have been checked to a certain extent. Though the post mortem report is treated as an 'expert opinion' in a court of law during trial, the majority of these reports are prepared by medical officers of specialisation, including but not limited to a general medicine, ophthalmology, gynaecology, a paediatrician or a psychiatrist, none of them having expertise in forensic examination. In majority of cases these doctors are reluctant to perform the post mortem examination.
The documentary further throws light upon the despicable practice of caste-based-discrimination in India, where only a particular denomination of the Dalit community - the Doms - are forced to do the inhuman process of ripping apart a dead human. In many parts of the country where caste based prejudices are still strong the Doms find it impossible to find any other job or their children seek and obtain proper education. Doms are positioned in lowest tier of the caste hierarchy having disposal of the dead as their caste-based job. Due to their socio-economic vulnerability they are engaged in some of the most menial jobs. Assisting in mortuaries is one such job. The process also sheds light into the fact that in many states, the police is provided with a paltry amount of Rupees 70 per body for its entire handling.
With autopsy processes as depicted in the documentary, no justice could be expected through the country's criminal justice process. At the moment it is a mere formality, executed in some of the most inhuman and crude forms, which not only makes a mockery of science and law, but also is a complete disrespect to humanity. MASUM and the AHRC is convinced that unless an immediate change is brought into the present practices as shown in the documentary of what is called in the country as a forensic examination, no matter what improvement is brought into the criminal justice process, justice will remain a phantom limb in India.
For information and comments contact:
In Hong Kong:
Bijo FrancisTelephone: +852 - 26986339
In India:Kirity Roy, SecretaryBanglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
Telephone: + 91 - 990309969
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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