Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Resources / Links > The autopsy report: Forensic investigations in India are done by doctors (...)

The autopsy report: Forensic investigations in India are done by doctors who are neither trained nor qualified, leading to endless legal stalemates | Rudraneil Sengupta

9 September 2018

print version of this article print version, September 7, 2018

At 23 minutes past noon, the second body of the day arrives, laid out flat on an open trailer harnessed to a tractor. The body is covered in a white sheet. The dead man’s name is Ram Chander: 25 years old, a labourer. He was found this morning slumped under a tree inside a primary school in his village, with a noose around his neck. Next to his body squats his father, Ram Pal, a small man with short salt-and-pepper hair tamped down on his head. Ram Pal’s eyes are closed.

As the tractor comes to a stop under a towering Seemal tree inside the district mortuary compound in the town of Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh—an hour’s drive from the state’s capital, Lucknow—Ram Pal steps off the trailer and looks around with dazed eyes. He notices a battered police car and walks up to it. From the back of the car protrudes what is unmistakably the feet of another body, wrapped tightly in a white sheet. This was the first body to arrive, at 9:37, and it belongs to a government clerk, the victim of a hit-and-run.

The clerk’s brother has fallen asleep under the tree. The police have not managed to get the inquest papers required for an autopsy to begin, and after three hours of restless and silent pacing, during which the clerk’s brother searched for, and failed, to find anyone to speak to about the situation, he gave up and lay down to rest. Now Ram Pal joins the wait.

At one in the afternoon, two policemen arrive with another body—a 72-year old man who died in prison while serving a life term for murder—in a ramshackle ambulance splattered with dried blood. The policemen bang loudly on the black gate that separates the parking lot from the autopsy rooms. The mortuary manager opens it a sliver to speak to the police. The families of the dead, roused by this new development, gather around. The inquest papers have come. The bodies are piling up.

The gate opens wider and Rakesh Kumar steps out. He is 45 years old, dressed in oversized red boxer shorts, a frayed t-shirt that sweeps over his belly, a thin pair of glasses with a broken bridge fixed with tape, and a pair of worn-out rubber slippers. His hair is cut close to the scalp and he has a drooping moustache.

The police know him well: he does all the autopsies. They offer him a pint bottle of whiskey and cajole him to start. He goes into the guardroom at the corner of the compound that doubles as his home, pours himself a stiff drink, drains it in one gulp, stuffs tobacco in his mouth, and pulls a pair of white rubber gloves onto his hands.

At 13:37, Rakesh has the body of the clerk laid out on the stone table in the cramped autopsy room, lit by a bright, naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. He takes a crude, rusted, knife and makes the first incision: a carefully drawn straight line—with a slight leftward deviation to bypass the navel—beginning from just under the adam’s apple, and ending just above the penis. The line splits the upper layer of the skin. Now he picks a six-inch knife, as rusted and rough as the first one, its handle held in place with a twine of blue plastic. He begins to cut through the layer of fat under the skin along the incision, and then through the flesh.

“You have to be careful, you don’t want to cut through any organs, or the post mortem will be ruined,” Rakesh says.

Rakesh is not a forensic surgeon. He is not a doctor. His official designation is ‘safai karamchari’—he is the mortuary’s cleaner. He is barely literate. Today, he will cut open six bodies, inspect them inside and out for injuries, remove the organs and weigh them before putting them back into the stomach cavity, stitch the bodies up, wrap them in plastic and a cotton sheet, and hand them back to the families.

The doctor actually assigned to do the autopsies will come in half an hour after the commencement of the first body, and will get to wear a mask, gloves, and a gown; but he will never once touch a corpse. Instead, he will observe and write his reports, often asking Rakesh to narrate what he is seeing. The doctor will leave before the last body—the prisoner—is barely open, having already written and signed the autopsy report for the old man.

[ . . . ]

Full text at:


The above excerpt from an article on Livemint is reproduced here in public interest and is for educational and non commercial use