Polygraphs help Indian couples tell the truth

BANGALORE, India — In a country where marriage is widely considered sacred, the traditional is bumping up against the modern. More urban Indian couples are using state-of the art forensics to settle marital tiffs.

Whether it's determining a spouse’s loyalty or resolving the paternity of a child, even baring all before the nuptials, lie detectors, or polygraphs, and paternity tests are coming in handy.

Such intrusive use of forensics seems a bold step for India, where arranged marriages and self-designed ones are considered sacrosanct life rituals, and rarely tampered with.

But, daring couples feel that venting their suspicions and working toward setting them to rest with the use of forensics is a better option than a lifelong dysfunctional relationship, said Kumaraswamy Thangaraj, scientist at Hyderabad’s Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology — a government-run center that offers a DNA profiling service.

A Chennai-based man’s suspicions about the paternity of his second child were found to be baseless after a DNA test at the center, ending years of friction with his wife. A traditional family from Mumbai asked their young daughter-in-law to go through a polygraph after she accused the father-in-law of making overtures toward her. Both these cases resulted in a happy endings, though it is not always so.

Regardless of outcome though, couples are flocking to forensics labs, both private and government-run, to solve their marital tiffs. Most are lured by the relatively low cost of the tests, as well as the guarantee of a quick and confidential resolution.

The number of those seeking lie-detector tests to resolve marital disputes at the privately run Truth Labs has doubled from the initial 20 cases a year when it was set up in 2007.

Initially, Truth Labs was set up to deal mainly with white-collar crimes such as forgery, embezzlement, cheating and cyber fraud. Now, based on demand, Truth Labs has expanded from its headquarters in Hyderabad to New Delhi and Chennai in less than two years, and will launch its operations in Bangalore soon.

A major contributing factor to the increased popularity of forensics in settling marital disputes is the over-burdened legal system. Were a married couple to approach the court, or go to the police for that matter, with a complaint, there is no assurance of a quick or competent solution. India’s legal system is clogged and resolutions are sometimes a generation away. Police complaints, on the other hand, often result in long-winded, inept investigations.

“Studies show that over 80 percent of Indians do not want to go to the police or the court; we offer an inexpensive, scientific alternative,” said Gandhi Kaza, founder of Truth Labs.

Another contributing factor to the spike in forensics being used to settle husband-wife tiffs is its affordability. Truth Labs charges 5,000 rupees (a little over $100) for a polygraph and the results are available in less than a week. The government’s Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology charges 3,800 rupees (about $80) for DNA profiling.The services are within reach of India’s middle class.

Dozens of cases arrive at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, as well as several other government-run labs, for DNA profiling. But the lab stringently insists on providing paternity tests only if the husband and wife give full consent and arrive with the child to provide blood for the profiling. The lab rejects hair and other material for the test.

“On the one hand, people are more aware that science can help tell the truth,” said Thangaraj, explaining the uptick in DNA profiling in paternity dispute cases. “On the other, you could say that people are losing trust in relationships.”