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Writing “the cause without the manner” of death? An anthropological perspective on forensic report writing in India Volume 36, issue 4, Décembre 2018

Author
* Fabien Provost, ethnologue, LESC (Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative), Université Paris Nanterre, Maison de l’archéologie et de l’ethnologie René-Ginouvès, 21 allée de l’université, 92023 Nanterre cedex, France
  • Key words: forensic medicine, autopsy, India, writing, coroner, cause of death, manner of death
  • DOI : 10.1684/sss.2018.0123
  • Page(s) : 15-39
  • Published in: 2018

In India, when a body is reported to the police, an officer is designated to conduct an investigation, the death inquest, whose purpose is to shed light on the circumstances of death. This investigation must make it possible to establish the manner of death, i.e. to determine whether it is the result of homicide, suicide, accident or a so-called “natural“death. The police officer in charge, whenever he considers that there is any doubt as to the cause of death, i.e. the event or series of pathophysiological events which led to death, must have the body examined by a medical doctor. The latter must determine this cause without overlapping on the question of the manner of death. Based on an ethnographic survey conducted in three morgues in Northern India, the article analyses how written forensic productions actually address the manner of death (insisting on certain lesions or referring to “compatibility“ with a “supposed manner“, etc.). The article also shows that, on the contrary, the causes of death expressed in the reports in strictly pathological terms do not reflect a lack of thought on the part of doctors as to the manner of death, but may be part of a writing strategy specifically aimed at undermining the importance placed on this manner.