A post-mortem procedure is said to be the last attempt of a victim, to tell the truth. Every word is important while writing a post-mortem report. A forensic expert has to mean what he/she means as the report stands as a part of evidence in the court of law.
In this context, a forensic expert is instrumental in the process of delivering justice. For Dr Vasudha Apte who has been working in the field of forensic medicine for last 45 years, justice is the goal. In a field dominated by men, she has left a remarkably legacy behind.
“In the field of forensic medicine, one has to deal with the death. A dead person cannot fight for justice. It is the responsibility of a forensic expert to analyse all the factors rationally, take all the possibilities into account and stay focused. As the report, you are going to write is a document instrumental in delivering justice,” said Dr Vasudha Apte.
She completed her MBBS course from Topiwala National Medical College and B.Y.L. Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai in 1964 and despite securing a high score in the subject of general surgery; she chose to pursue an M.D. in pathology.
An M.D. course in forensic medicine was not available, at that time in Nair Hospital. She later played a vital role in establishing a forensic department in Nair Hospital and worked as the head of the department for the same.
With time women are pursuing higher medical education but the presence of women in forensic medicine is a rare thing.
In 1964, Dr Vasudha chose a field which was unthinkable for women. “I didn’t want to do routine things and while doing MBBS I liked the subject of forensic science a lot. So I made it my passion. Not many women chose work in this field. This could be because that one needs to deal with death. Also, on has to often to be present in the court. It is a test of one’s physical and mental stamina,” said Dr Vasudha Apte.
She shares an anecdote from her career which highlights the challenges faced by a forensic expert.
“One day, when I reached the premises, it was occupied by several policemen. That was the time when the modes of communication were not so advanced. There was a building collapse and 27 people had died. The post-mortem of all of them was needed to be done. There was just one junior doctor to help me. Such situations are needed to be handled sensitively as there are relatives waiting to get the bodies of the deceased. You have to put duty before yourself.”
She feels that the number of women forensic experts should increase as it will sensitise the examination process of rape victims.
She also emphasised on the sensitisation of children towards gender equality. “Parents and teachers have a huge responsibility to teach children to respect women. It has to happen from the school level. Also, we need to stop glorifying narratives which are disrespectful towards women. That’s how we will be able to make a change in the social mentality,” said Dr Vasudha Apte.