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The meticulous seven, and a seven-day hunt for proof

As justice was finally delivered to Bilkis Bano today, a silent cheer went up at AIIMS.

As justice was finally delivered to Bilkis Bano today, a silent cheer went up at AIIMS.

It was a team of AIIMS doctors that cracked one of the most complex forensic puzzles to provide clinching evidence in a case that had come to symbolise the horrifying brutality of the Gujarat riots.

Led by Dr T D Dogra, Professor and Head of Forensic Medicine at AIIMS and now the director of the institute, the team of seven doctors had painstakingly hunted for forensic evidence in the Panivela village of Godhra in January 2004, and was able to establish that the bones they had recovered from the site actually belonged to the people who were killed as was being testified by Bilkis Bano.

Apart from Dr Dogra, the team included Dr Sanjeev Lalwani, Dr Anupama Raina, Dr T Millo, Dr C Behera, Dr Abhijit Rudra and Dr Ravi Rautji (the last two from AFMC, Pune, who were then on deputation to AIIMS).

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The biggest problem that the team faced was in finding evidence from the site from where the bodies were recovered, especially since they were called in two years after the crime had taken place.

“We were taken near a riverbed where the bodies were supposed to have been buried. It was a large area and no one knew the exact place where the bodies were buried. So we had to search the whole area,” Dr Dogra said, recounting the events in the last week of January 2004.

The team spent the next four days digging up every place they hoped would result in the recovery of some human remains. They even had to change the course of a rivulet to carry out digging under it, but without any success.


On the fourth day, just as they were about to call off their search for the day, one of the team members suggested they continue for another hour since there was still light. They continued, and soon made their first recovery — a forearm bone.

“About a thousand people used to watch us daily. The moment we declared we had found a human bone, those people would start clapping and screaming,” Dr Dogra said.

“It was a strange experience for me. These people were looking at the bones of their relatives and were still clapping. They must have been under tremendous anguish and pain. But probably for the first time they were feeling that they were not being ignored by the law, that justice would finally prevail,” he added.


For Dr Dogra, this assignment was very different from the innumerable ones he had been involved in and he had accordingly asked his team to put in that much of extra effort.

“It was a question of restoring the faith of the people in the system, in society,” he said.

Encouraged by its first find, the team continued digging for three more days and recovered more than 100 human bones, of six different persons. Thereafter, the task was a bit easier. Through anatomical and radiological examinations, the team was able to determine the age and sex of the victims. DNA analysis firmly established that the victims were indeed the people that Bilkis Bano had been talking about.

The team completed its examination in the first week of March 2004 and submitted its final report to the CBI.

“It is one of the most challenging assignments I have ever handled,” said Dr Dogra as Dr Lalwani brought him the news today that the Supreme Court had sentenced 11 of the convicted to life imprisonment. “And also one of the most satisfying.”

First published on: 21-01-2008 at 11:59:52 pm
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