Add this to your list of reasons not to get arrested in India (or maybe to get arrested if you're an adventurous druggie): If you get interrogated, you just might find yourself shot full of sodium pentathol in order to elicit a confession. As The Guardian's Helen Pidd reports, "truth serum" is still in use, but even proponents of the controversial cocktail don't sound convinced of its effectiveness.
The barbituate, known mostly through James Bond movies and their ilk, is a complete throwback to the early 20th century, and banned in most of the world. But according to Pidd, Indian police still use it on the sly, and some national investigators there even applied for a judge's permission to use it legally. "Dr. Gandhi PC Kaza, chairman of the Truth Lab, India's first independent forensic service, told the Guardian that despite narcoanalysis being 'unscientific, undemocratic, illegal and inhumane', it was still used with enthusiasm in certain Indian states – notably Gujarat and Karnataka."
But just how effective is the stuff anyway? iO9's Esther Inglis-Arkel looked into that question in April and decided that "it might" work, but probably wouldn't elicit the actual truth from a subject. The drug acts on the central nervous system, "which it depresses to calm anxiety, induce drowsiness, eliminate pain, and sometimes entirely knock someone out," Inglis-Arkell wrote. In the end, the drug is more likely to simply disorient a suspect and make him say what he thinks a questioner wants to hear, she concluded.
That uncertainty percolates to even the drug's proponents in India. One of the voices arguing most strenuously for the drug's use in Pidd's report was VH Patel, the deputy director at the Directorate of Forensic Sciences, Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, western India, who said he'd used it 100 times. Even he wouldn't offer a firm vote of confidence in its effectiveness. "It's an important methodology but we cannot say how accurate it is in the end. That depends on the investigation." Truth be told, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.