This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Manpreet Dhillon. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

From Laboratory To Courtroom: How Lalji Singh Pioneered DNA Fingerprinting In India

More from Manpreet Dhillon

DNA fingerprinting has revolutionised crime investigation across the world. The ability of DNA analysis to prove that a biological sample is a genetic match with the crime scene sample has unleashed the potential of this technology’s use in the criminal justice system. Criminals who commit rape/murder now face scientific evidence as well as a human judge. They might have been able to circumvent the evidence in the past, but with DNA fingerprinting it is almost impossible to escape the law.

The innocent people who are accused are also exonerated using this technology. It is due to this reason that the use of DNA evidence in court is accepted in most countries today. Further, the creation of DNA databanks for criminal investigation has empowered investigative authorities to get significant leads in their cases. This has helped tremendously in capturing the guilty, freeing the innocent and increasing the conviction rates, especially in sexual crimes. The success of DNA fingerprinting as a crime-fighting tool is known to almost everyone these days; however, the story of how DNA technology was introduced into the Indian Legal System is not often highlighted.

Sir Alec Jeffreys invented DNA fingerprinting at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom in 1984. It became a worldwide phenomenon when this technology was successfully used in solving the case of the rape and murder of two fifteen-year-old girls in England in 1987. After creating this technology, Jeffreys sold the patent rights to a private company. It was in 1988 that Dr. Lalji Singh created his probes through his research on using snake venom for DNA profiling in India at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad. After successfully experimenting with the technology in his laboratory, he offered this revolutionary new technology to be used in a case involving the dispute over the identity of a child by two different couples.

Thus, India became the third country in the world after the UK and the US to have the technology for human DNA fingerprinting. Prof. P.M. Bhargava encouraged and supported Dr. Lalji Singh in using this technology for providing forensic DNA evidence in the courtrooms to help in fighting crimes and putting the criminals behind bars.

As Prof. Lalji Singh writes in his book “My Travails in the Witness Box”, it was not at all easy for him to deal with the legal system, and he had to face many challenges. He relates that initially when he went to present his scientific evidence in the court, it did not even have a projector to enable him to explain his results and he had to use his own projector. His expertise was also severely questioned by the defence teams and the long hours of cross-questioning could have demotivated any other scientist, but Dr. Singh persevered in his quest with unquestionable integrity and made sure that many powerful men got convicted. He never compromised on his duty and went to the courts as an expert scientific witness giving the testimony as per the DNA test results.

In the famous case involving Swami Premananda, the defence team brought in an ‘expert’ from the UK to contest the DNA evidence presented by Dr. Singh. However, all doubts were laid to rest when it was shown that the methods used by Lalji Singh were much more scientifically rigorous than the questionable evidence produced by the foreign scientist who was privately hired by the defence to give counter testimony. The immense patience in dealing with the due process of law and the scrupulous analysis of the DNA evidence ensured that the courts in India acknowledged his expertise.

Dr. Singh was instrumental in establishing the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting in Diagnostics (CDFD) which is still the best laboratory of DNA analysis in India and has a place of pride in laboratories doing DNA analysis work in the world as well. He and his team delivered DNA analysis and expert scientific testimony in thousands of cases across the length and breadth of the country.

But they were not content in sitting in their laboratories only; they also ensured that their contributions benefited the people and empowered the judiciary to deliver justice through law. Some of the high-profile cases in which the government used their expertise are the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the assassination of the former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, Naina Sahni murder case, Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case and Swami Shraddhananda case.

Lalji Singh came from a humble rural background. He was born in a village in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. After completing his schooling, he went to the Banaras Hindu University where he completed his B.Sc., M.Sc. and PhD with distinction. He then secured a Commonwealth Fellowship and went to finish his post-doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh, UK. He returned to India in 1987 and started working at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad. Besides being a scientist of world repute, he was also a distinguished public servant for which he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2004. He served on many committees and became the Vice Chancellor of his alma mater, Banaras Hindu University in 2009 – where he drew a token salary of just one rupee.

Besides his pioneering work in DNA profiling, his zeal to serve the country led to the establishment of a laboratory for the conservation of endangered species (LaCONES) in 1998. The research he conducted also led to a significant contribution on the knowledge about human migration and evolution in the Indian subcontinent. He was also very motivated in using genetic technologies for the benefit of Indians and took a keen interest in working on the diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases – leading to the establishment of a non-profit organisation called the Genome Foundation. Unfortunately, Prof. Lalji Singh passed away in December 2017 due to a heart attack.

The legacy left behind by the ‘Father of DNA Fingerprinting’ in India is a testament to the scientific temper that needs to be inculcated in every citizen along with a passion for social justice. He embodied the ideal scientist working in the service of humanity in this era where science and technology are increasingly being marketised. The contributions of Dr. Singh enthuse researchers to contribute their knowledge for a social cause and to solve many problems faced by Indian citizens. He was a champion of dialogue between various disciplines and always worked together with the legal and law enforcement authorities to improve the criminal justice system in India. His story is an inspiration and shows what individual scientists can achieve when they make up their mind to serve the nation. We need many more researchers to follow in his illustrious footsteps.

You must be to comment.

More from Manpreet Dhillon

Similar Posts

By Charkha features

By Nandini Singh

By Amritansh pratap

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below