We all agree that our Government Forensic labs are understaffed and overburdened, so is their technological infrastructure to combat cases related to fraud and other crimes !
Sneha Gavli, our next pathbreaker, Forensic Expert at Forensic Solutions and Investigation Services, provides forensic services to Courts on pending cases, as well as to Organizations and Private Individuals on matters related to doubtful signatures, fingerprints or handwriting on questioned documents and many other cases that they wish to sort out of court internally.
Sneha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about deciding to start her own company to assist courts deliver justice in time through quality reports supported by established science which are admissible in court of law.
For students, the field of forensics requires curious, tenacious and innovative individuals who are ready to endure struggles and hardships, but play an important role in helping a person attain justice !
Sneha, tell us about your background?
I am a girl born to first-generation literate parents. I was born and brought up Pune. I was rich with love and attention from my parents, grand-parents and cousins. Both my parents had just completed their graduation when I came along. They both were trying to discover themselves as well as run a household. I lived my early life with my grandma caring for me and my parents working hard to earn our livelihood.
Both my parents love to read while no one else in my immediate family can. I fell in love with reading very early on. I read books in Hindi, Marathi and mostly in English. I have grown up reading Marathi books like ‘Nayayacha Taraju’, ‘Panchatantra’, ‘Faster Feni’ as well as English ones like ‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series and Hindi detective stories that my parents bought for me. I was an active child with above-average marks in all my subjects, I participated in almost every activity, be it dance, sports or singing. My books and my parents’ attitude of trying to help me find the answers to my various questions made me a very curious person. This eventually led to me looking into forensic science as a career.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
Like every other kid around, I was very confused when I completed my 10th class. Both my parents were commerce graduates and no other family member was learned enough to give me any suggestions. In fact, I completed my 10th Class when it was a big deal, especially because other girls in my extended family were being married off when they were in 10th. I am grateful that my parents never bowed to that pressure of marrying me off too. After lot of researching, talking to many of my parent’s friends and even going to a counselor, we decided to keep all my options open and go for science. I completed my graduation in Chemistry. By this time, I knew I was going to study Forensic Science as I had a chapter in forensic chemistry in my graduation course work. I had also researched a lot about the field. I completed my post-graduation in Forensic Science with toxicology and chemistry as my specialization.
I have also done a Diploma in Creative English writing and have qualified NET exam for professorship.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I think my parents and my books have been the most important influences in my life and my career choices. I was and still am amazed at my parent’s adaptability to a situation and their thirst for knowledge. When they had me, they were just commerce freshers, but today, both my parents hold many post graduate degrees.
Having always been an introvert, meeting new people was a daunting task for me. My books were my companion and so were my mentors and they still are. Today I am a bit more confident and comfortable in reaching out to people.
Mr. Santosh Raut played a big role in where I am today. He is a very kind and soft-spoken person with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Before meeting him, I was convinced that the next and only step for me is to get a job in a Govt. forensic Lab. I had passed many exams but was being rejected in interviews which was very demoralizing for me. I did not know what was going wrong, these jobs were very few and since forensic science qualification was new, the recruitment board still preferred pure science candidates. I was completely at loss. He was the person to guide us and tell us that there are other opportunities.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
After my graduation, we searched for forensic colleges for months. Since forensics was a new field, not many colleges provided it. It was shocking to us that the ‘Oxford of India’, Pune, did not have any college in forensics nor did any college in Maharashtra. My parents were not ready to leave me alone in Delhi or Punjab. So, it was decided that if I could make it to Gujarat Forensic Science University, I could do my post-graduation there.
Thanks to my parent’s blessings, I was third in the merit list of the entrance exam and received the “other state candidate” seat in the university. I was very thankful that I received that seat since only 5 seats were reserved for other state students and if they were taken, I had to pay double the fee amount.
In my Masters I learned various forensics specific subjects such as Fingerprint Analysis, Questioned Documents Investigation (Handwriting, Signature analysis), Ballistics (Science of firearm, Bullet Analysis and related things), DNA analysis and application of various sciences like Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Serology, Geology in the realm of forensic science. As the institute was, at that time, in the DFSL Gandhinagar building, we had the opportunity to be instructed by and assist forensic experts in the lab. We also had the opportunity to be instructed and assist Forensic experts in FSL Ahmedabad (A Forensic toxicology lab).
I worked as a chemist in a government water testing laboratory where I checked the potability of drinking water i.e., I checked if the water was good to drink or not. As I helped in setting up this lab, I learned a lot about administrative work, meeting people, record keeping and keeping all my instruments in good condition. As this was a job of analysis, it helped a lot in putting my knowledge to use.
During the time I was giving various govt exams for Maharashtra and Goa state after my post-graduation, I took up a teaching job. I used to teach students from 4th class to 8th class. It has improved my knowledge and taught me to have a lot of patience. Today I can give good seminars and lectures because of these jobs.
I also worked in IFS (International Forensic Sciences) as a forensic expert. As a part of my work profile I analyzed signature, handwriting, fingerprint samples, and prepared reports for analysis in court. I gave testimonies in courts of law as forensic expert, explaining my analysis and opinion. I conducted lectures, workshops and practical experiments along with my colleagues. I also handled client queries through phone calls and emails. Mr. Santosh Raut and all colleagues taught me a lot. They were the best colleagues and teachers you could ask for. They taught me how to talk to a client, how to answer their queries and how to write a forensic report. This was the job that gave me the opportunity to stand in front of court and give an expert testimony
How did you get your first break?
My job with IFS is what I think I call my first break. It was a job interview for which I had applied when one of my friends told me about the organization.
What were the challenges you faced in your career? How did you address them?
Though Forensic Science, especially Fingerprint Science, has its roots in India, not many people know what it exactly is. People like Judges, Police officers and Lawyers are still not very confident about what it can do. For the common man, Forensic Science is till something Dr. Salunke from CID ( Set Max show) does. The show does not show the reality, thus spreading more mis-information than reality.
Today, in my startup company, we arrange various seminars and work-shops for everyone interested, to give more information about forensics.
Challenge 2 :
The government does not recruit people on a permanent basis. The forensic student’s organization pleaded in high court that people are not recruited on a permanent basis. We were heard by the court. Both the High Court and Supreme Court have told the government not to take contract-based experts, as when the experts are needed for testimony 3-4 years after the report is prepared, they are not available since they were contractual. Most state governments still are recruiting contractual experts.
Challenge 3 :
There are a lot of requirements for service. I have started my own company where we provide various forensic services to police, lawyers, private individuals and organizations. My company also provides consultations, workshops, internships and seminars for people interested in forensic science. Students can take our seminars or workshops to see what exactly the field is and to check if they would like to work in it.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
I currently work as a Forensic Expert in Forensic Solutions and Investigation Services (www.forensicsolutions.in)
Today, there are very few private labs that provide forensic services. Most cases go to the government labs which are already backlogged for years. This creates a problem for people in obtaining forensic services or in verifying government lab reports.
We provide quality reports supported by established science which are admissible in court of law and in a timely manner. This makes our services very valuable.
Moreover, to avail forensic services of the Govt. lab, the matter should be in court of law. We provide forensic services to organizations and private individuals for matters they wish to sort out of court internally.
Most of the cases include doubtful signatures, fingerprints or handwriting on property papers, banks, insurance withdrawal papers etc. Many times, these are cases in civil courts, family courts. We also get signature verification requests from companies regarding internal investigations about sanctions, proposal and wrongful submissions of documents. Criminal cases like frauds, identity theft cases are common for us. We have also helped in analysis of suicide, threat letters.
What skills are needed for your job? How did you acquire the skills?
Keen observation, logical thinking and deduction skills are most important. This field is not about repeating the procedures mentioned in the guidelines. Each case is different and has its own sets of limitations and problems. You have to take all that into consideration and then proceed.
What is a typical day like?
Since this is my startup, my typical day starts with posting something on social media for marketing, followed by checking difficult case mails and enquires, answering them. I also talk to different organizations about our joint work as well as work on my cases. If I have seminars or workshops I get everything ready for them with my team.
What is it you love about this job?
It’s never boring. You get to hear new stories and new problems every day. Working on new problems every day is very challenging and satisfying.
How does your work benefit society?
Today, many people are in the jail because they are still waiting for their forensic reports to come from the labs that are understaffed and over-burdened. We can decrease their time in jail considerably if the court has other options. Our organization gives that option to the court. In many cases if justice is not delivered in time, it can lose its impact. Helping a person to attain justice is a very good goal to work for.
Also, many times forensic services are needed to sort out a personal matter in a family or company where they do not wish to take it to court. In this condition we provide them the much needed services.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
This was a case in Gujarat where, along with a divorce case, the couple also had a fraud case in court. The two cases had gotten entangled and had arrived at a place where a signature on legal documents played the most important role. The husband had accused the wife of trying to encash all the mutual fund investments after the divorce case was already in court for 6 months. The funds were in both their names and she had signed his forged signatures. They had waited for two years for the forensic reports, but when they were told it would take more time, the documents were sent to us. Reports were provided within a weeks and filed in court. I was summoned to court for testimony. All his signatures were fraud while all her signatures were true. This put her in a very difficult condition. It helped a lot to sort out this case. After a few months, the man called and thanked us profusely. This case was going on in court for the past 10 years and he was fed up with it. Our report made it possible to get him justice in the fraud case and also helped finalize his divorce case.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Come to this field if you are always curious, tenacious and innovative. There is also a lot of struggle that you have to endure. The cases you come across are not always pleasant. I remember a handwriting verification case that I had to work for. It was a 3 page suicide note that I was studying for a week. It was a very depressing and mentally exhausting case. You have to be mentally very strong since you might come across very bad and horrific cases.
We plan to add more services so we can offer many other forensic services to our client. We also want to help people understand what forensic science is so they can benefit from the knowledge even in their darkest times.