Stuartpuram, a village in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh was known for decades as an abode of thieves as the place housed two of the many ex-criminal tribes that the colonial, Criminal Tribes Act of 1924 had declared criminal by birth.
Now, after facing several generations of stigma that included frequent police raids, Sturatpuram is finally teeming with upwardly mobile youth, many of whom are into higher education and small time professional lives.
Will India’s DNA profiling Bill affect the future of these individuals? Will criminal history, credentials of which could be questionable, be linked to people and communities for a lifetime and more, only to be invoked when needed?
The government is planning to pass the Bill in the current session of Parliament.
While scientists who vouch by the DNA Bill give a go ahead for it while brushing aside privacy concerns and fear of social and political misuse of the data, those opposing the legislation fear that the bill could result in large scale violation of human rights.
“DNA can reveal very personal information about people. And biometric data collection of the scale of this kind has a high potential for misuse and hence the bill itself should have powerful safeguards for privacy that it currently lacks,” said Chinmayi Arun, Research Director of the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, New Delhi.
Legal experts said that the scope of the Bill was too wide to be implemented in the country. As it allowed the use of DNA data in relation with offences including abortions, paternity disputes and crimes against the law of nature, it could make the databank too large for any sort of use, experts said.
“Does the Bill mean to say that once a criminal always a criminal?” asked Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, an advocate and human rights activist from Thiruvananthapuram.
The data is collected and stored under indices including, crime scene index, suspects index, offender’s index, missing persons index, unknown deceased persons’ index, volunteers’ index, and such other DNA indices as may be specified by regulations made by the Board.
DNA fingerprinting experts found that the whole process could further slow down the legal framework in the country. G.V. Rao, forensic DNA expert and RTI activist from Hyderabad said that in a country “where the conviction time for major offences is anywhere between 10 to 20 years, there is hardly any need to add DNA profiling to people’s misery. The country is not prepared to conduct such a cumbersome process.”
Scientists were, however, not too worried about the privacy concerns. “The DNA profiling is being done legally in various Western countries and it was successful in solving a large number of crime cases. Coming to privacy concerns, there are enough safeguards in place including punishment for misusing the data,” said N. Madhusudhan Reddy of DNA Fingerprinting Service, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad.
A DNA expert, Lalji Singh, former Director of CCMB, said “the biggest advantage of Human DNA profiling Bill, if it becomes an Act is that all that the courts have to do will be to follow the DNA evidence.”
‘The Bill could result in large scale violation of human rights’