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For those readers who are surprised after seeing the title, it must be told that the world's first Fingerprint Bureau was established in Calcutta in 1897. This feat, although very rarely talked about, was achieved due to the collective effort of Sir Edward Richard Henry, Khan Bahadur Azizul Haque, and Rai Bahadur Hemchandra Bose.

The date was August 16th, 1897. Hridaynath Ghosh, manager of Kathalguri Tea Estate (now Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal), was found in his bungalow with his throat slit wide open. Coincidentally his domestic help Ranjan Singh alias 'kangali' had just ended his six months terms in prison for theft. So it was no surprise that he topped the list of suspects.

Now a few years prior to this incident, in 1890, Sir Francis Galton had been able to conclusively prove that no two people had the same fingerprints and that these prints, once collected, would be permanent, thus establishing fingerprinting as a science. Together with Edward Henley and William James Herschel, they pioneered the fingerprinting system which is used even today. Sir William James Herschel, one-time Collector of Hooghly, extensively, though informally, used fingerprints for official purposes between 1858 and 1880.

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Followed by this, in India in 1891, Henry, the Inspector General of Bengal Police began a series of experiments intended to classify various kinds of fingerprints. Based on these experiments, two officers of the Anthropometric Bureau, Hemchandra Bose, and Azizul Haque worked out a mathematical approach for the classification of fingerprints. Hemchandra Bose, who had joined the Bengal Police Service as a sub-inspector in 1889, and Azizul Haque, a mathematics prodigy who was a student at Presidency College when Henry recruited him as a sub-inspector, were both personally supervised by Henry. In March of 1897, a government committee approved the use of fingerprints to identify criminals, which in turn led to the setting up of the Fingerprints Bureau in Calcutta that same year.

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Coming back to the case. Explaining how the prints had been used to convict Kangali, Henry, later told the Belper Committee:

"What is that case? Shortly, it was that a man was found in a tea garden with his throat cut. It was some distance from the nearest police station, and the police could get no clue. The police suspected, among others, an ex-servant of the man, who had been imprisoned for theft. I was inspecting up the line, and on asking the police officer if he had any clue, he produced among other things the little book you see here, with two brown marks on it. As soon as I saw that I was able to make out that the marks were probably caused by one of the digits of the right hand..."

The killer was finally identified through fingerprints. It was indeed "kangali" himself. Although guilty, Ranjan Singh was acquitted by a court on May 25, 1898, owing to the fact that Indian laws back then had no provision for fingerprint evidence. Clearly, a change was required, and in 1899, the Indian Legislature passed an amendment which led to a new law accommodating fingerprint evidence. Although never punished for his crimes, the Kathalguri murder case still remains as the first case where the culprit was caught from his fingerprints.

Initially, Bose and Haque were never adequately acknowledged for their work. In their book 'Indian Civilization and the Science of Fingerprinting', G.S. Sodhi and Jasjeet Kaur suggest that Henry's System of Fingerprint Classification be renamed the Henry-Haque-Bose System of Fingerprint Classification. Though this suggestion has not materialized, the UK Fingerprint Society has recently instituted a research award in the names of Haque and Bose.


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