An increasing number of suspicious fathers are openly or secretly performing tests on their children to ascertain who the dad is.Â Ketan TannaÂ unravels a new Indian experiment that Lord Ram had once done differently
A moment that most men fear. Even married men. The unemotional announcement of the woman, “I think I am pregnant”. But there are men who see a long plot when they hear it. Like the 29-year-old resident of Hyderabad who could not believe that after five years of failed efforts to make an issue, his wife could be suddenly carrying his child.
His sperm count was low, doctors had told him that. He doubted his role in his wife’s pregnancy. After six months of sleepless nights during which he searched for peace on Google, he discovered that the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad could conduct a paternity test and solve the mystery for him.
To the officials of that facility, he mumbled clumsily, “I do not think the baby is mine.” They said that he should wait after the child has been delivered and return with the issue’s blood samples. When the baby turned three months old, the mother, aware of her husband’s suspicions by now, agreed to let her child’s blood prove her innocence. The tests absolved her. Happy ending, by the standards of some marriages.
Today, there are several men and their curious parents who are overtly and covertly seeking the assistance of this science from a handful of forensic and private laboratories in the country.
Suspected infidelity is not always the only provocation.
Some fear baby swap, not an uncommon occurrence in Indian hospitals. Also, there are valid fears that fertility clinics, after having failed to help a woman conceive, inseminate her with a frozen sperm to appear successful.
To the hundreds haunted by such fears, a paternity test that costs anywhere from Rs 3,000 to several thousands, depending on the lab and the number of tests, is bringing peace of mind or the peace of a shocking conclusion.
The test compares a child’s DNA pattern with the alleged father’s. Since we all inherit our genetic material from both our parents, these tests are comprehensive if done well.
Saliva, hair, blood and other body components contain unmistakable imprints of our true parentage. For effective tests, labs demand that both parents give their samples along with the child’s. For instance, Hyderabad’s CCMB insists that samples come from both man and wife. And parents are only eager to participate if the intention of the tests is not to nail cheating but clear fears of baby swap. “Do you know that one out of every 1,000 infant transfers in the hospitals is a mistake?” claims the weighty literature at Hiranandani Hospital at Powai in Mumbai. The institute, needless to add, offers paternity testing service. For Rs 11,000.
The hospital website especially asks parents who conceive after infertility treatment, artificial insemination and assisted reproduction to go for tests to rule out the “possibility of intentional or unintentional mix-ups”.
Private labs like Hiranandani do not have the resources and legal sanctions that government forensic labs have to actually perform the tests. They collect saliva samples of both the parents and the child on cotton swabs, which are then dried and sent in an air-tight pouch to Chicago in the US of A. Results are normally available after an agonising wait of two to three weeks. But they have been getting brisk inquires.
While such tests bring relief or pain to the family, they do not have a legal standing yet. In 1993, when DNA testing was not prevalent and simple blood grouping tests instead were the norm to ascertain paternity, a landmark judgment was passed by the Supreme Court.
The child maintenance case involved one Goutam Kundu who disputed that he was the father. His wife had gone home to give her higher secondary exams, during which period she claimed she was pregnant. Kundu questioned the paternity of the child and asked her to abort. She refused.
The couple separated but the wife demanded child maintenance from her estranged husband.
To counter this claim, Kundu asked for a blood grouping test to support his claim that his wife had not delivered his child. But Justices A M Ahmadi and S Mohan ruled that since the purpose of his application was to avoid paying maintenance, the request cannot be accepted.
They also quoted a section of the Evidence Act of 1872 that naively states that “if a person was born during the continuance of a valid marriage between his mother and any other man or within 280 days after its dissolution and the mother remains unmarried, it shall be taken as a conclusive proof that he is the legitimate son of that man, unless it can be shown that the parties to the marriage had no access to each other at any time when the child could have been begotten.”
Ten years later, in 2003, by which time DNA testing had permeated the society, the Supreme Court took a different view in the Sharda Vs Dharmpal divorce case.
It said that a Family Court had the power to order a person to undergo medical test, the nature of which was not specified, but an interpretation includes DNA paternity test.
The fact that the results of DNA testing can be a weapon in court and would inevitably drag doctors to the witness box, is a reason why some medical practitioners avoid being associated with such tests, though it’s good business. “We are doctors. We cannot run every other day from clinic to court,” says Dr Hema Purandare of the Centre for Genetic Health. Interestingly, she points out, many requests for tests come from the lower middle to poor classes, who somehow manage to gather money for the tests.
A bulk of DNA paternity tests is being handled by the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) in Hyderabad, an autonomous organisation funded by the department of biotechnology, ministry of science and technology. In the past three years, the institute has handled over 1,000 paternity cases.
CDFD handles requests from government bodies and legal authorities across India. Dr J Gaurishankar, director-incharge, informs that CDFD has handled nearly 1,000 paternity-related cases in the past three years.