No Truth In Third Degree

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Narco analysis is no substitute for trusted methods of investigation

By Rebecca Mamman John

Illustration: Anand Naorem

NARCO ANALYSIS has become the biggest smokescreen for lazy investigation. When I watched a sedated Abdul Karim Telgi, the mastermind behind the stamp paper scam, mumble on national television in 2006 under the influence of the supposed truth serum, my instinctive reaction was that this is exceptionally demeaning. But sadly from thereon, the Forensic Science Laboratory in Bangalore, which conducted narco analysis on Telgi – the first high-profile narco analysis undertaken in India – made the test customary. Narco analysis is nothing but a coercive and degrading pseudoscientific practice that masquerades as forensic science. Scientists conducting the test have not placed their claims before any appropriate scientific forum for validation or peer review. And every democratic country, except India, has done away with it because it lacks scientific, ethical, moral and legal basis.

If sodium pentothal, the drug that is injected into the body to induce a trance-like hypnotic state, can lead a person to talk with less inhibition, then surely the reverse is also true. Where is the evidence which will show that a person under the influence of sodium pentothal will speak the truth? His mind may conjure up something which may have never happened. This only leads to the suspicion that the so-called truth found in narco analysis could also be manufactured truth planted by interrogators.

Scientific efficacy apart, narco analysis also violates Article 20 of the Constitution of India. The test has absolutely no legal basis to stand in a court of law. It cannot be made the basis of an acquittal or conviction and is inadmissible in evidence. When the findings will not be ultimately accepted in a court of law, what is the use of conducting a test that involves injecting a drug into the human body which could cause serious medical complications? Why would you want to subject a citizen to a drug used in 33 states of the United States for executions? While handwriting analysis, chemical analysis and voice recording are methods of the investigative process that are validated by the Indian Evidence Act, narco tests find no mention in any codified legal literature. Narco analysis and brain mapping are nothing but a fraud – high-sounding names which investigating agencies use to hoodwink the public.

There is no substitute for good investigation. But narco analysis has made the Indian investigator lazy because it has shifted the focus from time-tested methods of investigation – chemical analysis, ballistic analysis, handwriting analysis and toxicology – based on hard work to shortcuts. The Aarushi Talwar murder case is a classic example. The police corrupted all legally admissible evidence within days of the twin murders. Two years later they are resorting to a narco analysis test on the girl’s parents. The police would do well to concentrate on genuine investigative aids rather than place a person in a “state of trance”, with no guarantee of producing the truth.

Where is the evidence to show that a person under the influence of truth serum will speak the truth?

In the case of Kobad Ghandy, whom I represent, consent for the narco test was refused by him primarily because of his age and history of medical ailments. What ‘truth’ was the police hoping to unravel from the test that it did not get while interrogating him during his two-week custody? This test is a deliberate, systematic, almost wanton infliction of physical and mental suffering, a clear violation of human rights. And the tragedy of our times is that none of us – government, media, court of law or civil society – question it. The result: more shortcuts, an increase in custody deaths, encounter killings and dubious investigative methods.

The truth serum is nothing but a monumental lie, suggestive of scientific magic, but in fact little more than a magician’s sleight of hand.

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