EXHUMATION – KNOWING TRUTH THROUGH DEAD BODIES

INTRODUCTION

There are many reasons for a person’s death, it might be natural, a suicide, an accident, homicides, disease, etc. Many times, the manner and cause of death is known but sometimes it remains unrevealed, there are uncertainties regarding the demise for which autopsy is done within 6-10 hours of the death of that individual. But what if the body is buried and after that doubt is arising about his/her death? What could be done in such a situation? The answer is Exhumation. Exhumation is a procedure by which the already buried dead body is taken out lawfully by digging the ground for an investigation associated with the death of that person. The term exhumation comes from the Latin term ‘ex’ meaning ‘out of’ and ‘humus’ meaning ‘earth’, so exhumation is literally ‘taking out of the earth’. Though digging out of the buried body can be done by normal people also but it can create several problems, therefore an appropriate procedure is followed. It is legal digging out of a buried body for medical purposes like post mortem. Being a delicate procedure, it is full of obstacles as the corpse decomposes after the burial of the body which creates a hindrance in finding interpretation. In recent years the number of exhumations has improved since people are becoming more aware of this public right. This article aims to comprehend what exhumation is and the technique followed in India to perform it.

EXHUMATION IN INDIA

Exhumation means authorized digging out of the coffin of a deceased from his grave. It is needed for purposes of identification, to determine the cause of death, when foul play is suspected, and for the second autopsy or maybe other religious reasons. It is rarely done in India as in our country the dead bodies are cremated, mostly. Burial is a process for definite disposition wherein a dead individual or creature is put into the ground, but uncommon in India because the majority of Hindus and Hindus do cremation according to their cultures. Exhumation is different from retrieval of a clandestinely buried body. In the latter one, the body is not buried legally but secretly buried by criminals or groups of criminals. It is just unearthing of the dead body buried by criminals. Exhumation term is functional only when entombment of the body is done by custom, lawfully and genuinely. It turns out to be vital if at the hour of the passing, there were no doubts and the body was enclosed without any doubt after death. Later on, new certainties might become visible, showing some unfairness. So, it becomes important to lay out the reason for death. Post mortem play an important role in the outcome of exhumation as almost all the exhumations are done for post mortem only which is a highly specialized surgical procedure consisting of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of the death and to evaluate any disease or injury involved. Exhumation alludes to the recuperation of a formerly buried body for post-mortem examination. The post mortem report gives details of the examination made of the body and sent to the coroner by the pathologist. Therefore, it is inter-connected with exhumation. Following demise, the damaging cycles of autolysis and putrefaction begin. The delicate tissue melts and breaks down, leaving skeletonized remains. Presently anyway with progress in medication and science that have been fused into legal training and crime scene investigation in general, such injuries can be precisely recognized and the weapon utilized distinguished directly down to the level of metal utilized in its production. The exhumation of a body is something that has assisted forensic scientists with giving legitimate groups of substantial proof that isn’t everything was as it appeared when the victim died. The forensic examination is the final stage, after exhumation, for the criminological finding of a neglected or inappropriately investigated demise. The law of the land safeguards the body covered in a cemetery or burial spot and permission from competent authorities must be taken before any exhumation is done.

Section 27, Indian Evidence Act states that if any confession is made by the accused then it could be used to discover or prove any new facts. It is generally applied in situations where any offence, object, dead body, etc is concealed by the accused after committing that offence. Section 176, Crpc states the procedure of Exhumation followed in India. An inquest is conducted by the Executive Magistrate. Revenue Officials like Executive Magistrate, Sub-Collector, Tehsildars and Revenue Divisional Officers are designated for this purpose. The forensic team, Police of that jurisdiction along with these officials carry out this task.

GENERAL PRECAUTIONS

Exhumation is to be completed under the supervision of the medical officer and within the sight of police after getting an order from Magistrate. In India, exhumation cannot be done by order of the police. It is important to complete exhumation in the early morning before the cemetery is available to the public so that there is some privacy.

IDENTIFYING AND OPENING OF GRAVE

The grave is officially identified by the warden of the cemetery from the records, and the specific site by companions and relations who might have been available at the hour of internment, the sexton and overseer might affirm this procedure. A canvas screen is raised around the grave. It is then uncovered cautiously to prevent harming the final resting place and its content. Sample from coffin wood and burial clothes are collected. The coffin is cleaned, identified by the original undertaker, and then raised to the surface. After these things are done, the body is sent for post-mortem.

PRECAUTIONS AT EXHUMATION

Several precautions are required to be taken as it is a crucial process-

  • As many persons as possible have to identify the body before the post-mortem.
  • Viscera and materials sent for chemical analysis:
  • Soil (500 gm) that is above and below the body.
  • Hair from pubic and head.
  • Bones, nails and teeth.
  • Stomach, liver and intestines.

LIMITATION OF EXHUMATION

There are certain limitations of this unearthing process-

  • Time-lapse between burial and concealment.
  • Soft tissue findings may be destroyed.
  • Histopathology findings may be useless.
  • Vegetable, volatile, synthetic poisons may be lost.
  • Grave may not be properly identified.
  • Soil conditions may be dry, hot or water lodged.

State of Karnataka v Bhoji Poojari & Anr., it was a case of dowry death, in which the victim and her daughter were killed by her husband and buried in a gunny bag. FIR was filed by the victim’s father on the suspicious disappearance of his daughter and granddaughter. The two bodies were exhumed based on the statement given under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act. With the permission of the District Magistrate and in the presence of medical officers, exhumation was done for the identification of the two dead bodies. The trial court found the evidence trustworthy and gave a decision in the favour of the victims’ father however this decision was questioned in the High Court as based on bangles and ornaments one cannot say that it is the same woman. Later, this question came before the Apex Court where it was said that the advanced skull study and post mortem reports were 90-95% correct and the accused were held liable under Section 302 and 201 of IPC.

CONCLUSION

The outcome of any exhumation relies not just upon the specialized means accessible to achieve the mentioned mission, yet additionally on the preservation states of the corpse. It is a legal and scientific procedure. The major deciding factors for a potential outcome at exhumation are, basically, the absence of delicate tissue, the distinguishing proof of post-mortem character of the injuries and the exposure to natural and taphonomy factors. In India, there is no time limit for doing exhumation. It is a rare procedure here but very useful in some situations as it can give the answer to several unanswered questions and help in proving justice.

Author(s) Name: Shreya Sonal (Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan)