Fingerprint Sodhi: Indian Forensic Pioneer Dr G S Sodhi An Interview by KIRANDEEP KAUR http://www.sikhchic.com/people/fingerprint_sodhi_indian_forensic_pioneer_dr_g_s_sodhi New Delhi Khalsa College’s Dr G S Sodhi is amongst a handful of scientists in the world, and the only one in India, working on developing chemical methods of detecting fingerprints at crime scenes. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Delhi, specifically with the Department of Chemistry, based at the Sri Guru Tegh Bahadar Khalsa College, New Delhi. He holds 10 patents, he has published 70 research papers and 10 review articles in journals of international repute. A member of the exclusive International Fingerprint Research Group, he was the Regional Vice-President of the Fingerprint Society, United Kingdom, from 2004-13. INTERVIEW Q: Fingerprint Technology is a distinct field of study which is largely unheard of even in the scientific community, what made you pursue it? A: As a young man I wanted to join the Defence Services but I was detected having colour blindness and so couldn’t pursue my dream job. Following this, I switched to my second favourite subject, which happened to be chemistry and subsequently I drifted towards forensic sciences and Fingerprint Technology. The reason for choosing to work with fingerprints was more practical in nature. Unlike other subjects, this field has hardly evolved and much of the research still remains to be done and this challenge inspired me. Secondly, when I joined the University of Delhi as a lecturer, funding opportunities for research projects were sparse and infrastructure was undeveloped. Therefore, I picked a line that offered me the space to develop new technologies with minimal dependence on infrastructure. Q: What compelled you to focus your work only on Fingerprint Technology and becoming a leading national and international authority on it? A: For a long time, fingerprint technology was the monopoly of anthropologists who did not have a clear understanding of the subject. Also, in India, the crime statistics are dismal, 97% of the police cases are solved by third degree methods (such as beatings, torture, etc.) and only 3% using ideal scientific methods. Therefore, the conviction rate is dangerously low. Such situations can be mitigated simply by following better investigation procedures. Thus, there was a raging scarcity of professionals who could devote themselves to this task. So, essentially, I occupied an empty niche. Q: Why do we need fingerprint technology? Don’t we already have chemicals that can detect fingerprints from a crime scene? A: That is partially true, but we need to understand two things. First, that fingerprints are critical during a crime scene investigation, because they are regarded as irrefutable evidence in the courts of law in most of the countries. Secondly, criminals have found their own clever ways to destroy fingerprints. Many of them wash the crime scene with water, burn clothes, clean the area with dry cloth, and so on. Therefore, we need better chemical compositions that can detect fingerprints under conditions where it would be otherwise difficult to do so. Q: Can you tell us something about your own work? A: I have developed fingerprint powders which can successfully develop prints that are weak, faint or fragmented. I have recently developed a composition which can detect fingerprints that have been accidentally or deliberately washed out with water. I also developed a method of developing prints left on duct tape, which is used by suicide bombers to tie explosives on their bodies. This kind of work has not been done by anybody before. Moreover, the compositions I have developed are on an average less toxic and cheaper than those currently being used. Some of these compositions have household products like arrowroot and talcum powder as ingredients. Q: What about the outreach of your products? A: The sad reality is that Indian policemen are not adequately trained in scientific methods of investigation. Therefore, I conduct training workshops in forensic science for employees of Delhi Police and the Military Police Regiment of the Indian Army. Recently I received positive response from officers of the Karnataka Police who tested some of my products. I have also started a course in Forensic Science in the Delhi University for the first time. My students are part of mobile Delhi Police labs and help them in solving crimes using forensic methods. Q: You are also planning to publish a book on “History of Fingerprints in India“? A: Much to my surprise, when I started researching the history of fingerprint technology, I realised that the current system being employed for classifying fingerprints was developed by two Indian officers, Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose. Their system of classification is still being used in all civilized countries of the world. However, this discovery was made when India was under the British Raj. As a result, the entire credit for their work was taken by their senior officers who were British. After persistent effort from my side, the Fingerprint Society, United Kingdom has finally recognized and accepted the contribution of these two Indian officers with effect from 2009, and has instituted international awards in their names. I am planning to publish this story in a book which is due to be released very soon. Q: What is your vision? What do you want to accomplish for yourself? A: I believe that no criminal should go unpunished and no one who is innocent should be abused or mistreated in any way. But such a statement is too idealistic to be labelled as future goal. Progress is made in steps, and so I wish to set up a world-class forensic science laboratory in India. This could render a force of change to the country’s crime scene investigations. Q: As a Sikh did you face any challenges in the field? No, on the contrary the response that I received was heartening, especially at international conferences. I take pride that I am a Sikh and don’t feel that I am treated differently because of my religion. My colleagues in UK and Canada in particular clearly understand Sikhism and we have had some good discussions on the subject of religion as well.