The earliest known instances of fingerprints being used as signatures for identification, are from Babylon, around 2000 BC. Later, other systems were used in India, Japan, and China. Sir William James Herschel, credited as the first European to use fingerprints for identification, documented his own to prove its effectiveness.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Sir Edward Richard Henry, inspector-general of police, lower provinces Bengal, of pre-independence India, and his sub-inspectors Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose, started maintaining criminal records through a mathematical formula of fingerprint patterns. They then proceeded to put together what was earlier unstructured, in a methodical manner.
The “Henry Classification System”, as it went on to be known, gave rise to the United Kingdom Fingerprint Bureau in 1901.
Sir Henry, Bose and Haque thus paved the way for advanced criminal investigation, and even today, important cases are solved, and criminals apprehended thanks to comprehensive DNA fingerprinting.
In August 1898, a tea garden manager was murdered in the Dooars. The Criminal Investigation Department of Bengal Province, while investigating the case, found a compendium with “ two faint brown smudges” at the scene of the crime. The detectives identified the impressions as those of Kangali Charan, a former servant, and unknowingly created history—this was the first ever instance of forensic science being used to apprehend a criminal.
The Bengal Fingerprint Bureau has solved many blind cases but is still in semi-obscurity. The department got a boost when at a recent cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a decision to revamp it, allocating ₹ 16 crores to recruit and train young people and procure modern equipment.
Right from the time it began, fingerprinting has given rise to some other advanced techniques, like DNA sampling, to solve crimes. Fingerprints aid in the identification of criminals and prove their participation in the crime in court, and this move by the CM is definitely a silver lining!
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