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How Japan has kept Netaji’s remains from being tested for DNA, keeping alive mystery around his death

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How Japan has kept Netaji’s remains from being tested for DNA, keeping alive mystery around his death

New Delhi: World is observing the 126th birth anniversary of Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. As people remember his contributions, his death continues to be one of the most discussed and mysterious deaths in India that has given rise to several conspiracy theories related to his possible survival after his disappearance in 1945.

Netaji’s family has been constantly demanding end in the mystery of his death. Last year, his daughter Anita Bose Pfaff sought for a DNA test of the ashes at the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan.

Bringing back Netaji’s ashes would be ‘true tribute’

She said that bringing back Netaji’s ashes and resolving the mystery surrounding his life would be a “true tribute” to the revolutionary to the freedom fighter.

“I, as the daughter of Netaji, want this (mystery) to end in my lifetime,” she had said.

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Pfaff, a German, said that initially, the Japanese government decided to keep the ashes as they thought they would be for a few months, but more than 77 years have passed.

“It is not a mystery for me as there is ample proof that he died in the air crash. But, I want his ashes to be brought back to his motherland. I want to do this service to my father,” she demanded.

Pfaff further said that people who still doubt whether Netaji died on 18 August, 1945, or not, it offers a chance to obtain scientific proof that the remains kept at Renkoji Temple in Tokyo are his.

Inquiry commissions to solve Netaji’s mystery disappearance  

Since India’s independence in 1947, three inquiry commissions have been formed by the Indian government to solve Netaji’s disappearance mystery.

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Two of them – the Shah Nawaz Commission and the Khosla Commission – formed by the Congress government concluded that Netaji died in an airplane crash.

The third and the last commission, the Justice Mukherjee Commission, established by the BJP-led NDA government said that Netaji did not die in plane crash.

The report also said, “ashes in the Japanese temple are not of Netaji”.

Findings of the Justice Mukherjee Commission

As per the report of the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry on the alleged disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the Commission went to Japan to examine Dr Taneyoshi Yoshimi, who is the only surviving witness to Netaji’s alleged death in a military hospital in Taihoku.

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The Commission also visited the Renkoji Temple where the alleged ashes of Netaji have been kept.

How Japan has kept Netajis remains from being tested for DNA keeping alive mystery around his death

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Wikimedia Commons.

“In the aforesaid temple, an urn inside a glass chamber was notice which allegedly contained the ashes. When the Reverend Chief Minister of the temple (Chief Priest) was asked to open the urn to ascertain whether there were any bones in the ashes which could, if possible, be subjected to DNA test, he stated that without a competent mechanic it was not possible to open the glass chamber and for that matter the urn and that the date of visit (September 16, 2002) being a holiday, it was not possible to requisition the services of any mechanic to open the glass chamber and inspect the contents of the urn,” the Commission report said.

The report further said that the chief priest of the temple assured that if a prior notice was given, he would make necessary arrangement to have the glass chamber and the urn opened.

On October 24, 2002, two officers of the Indian Embassy in Japan went to the temple again and opened the casket. They then examined the contents and took photographs which were sent the Commission.

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After receiving the report and photographs, the Commission on December 5, 2002, wrote to the Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and to the Director of Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics at Hyderabad, requesting them to let the Commission know whether the DNA test could be conducted on bones found in the ashes.

In the reply, CCMB on December 10, 2002, informed: “If the bones were collected from burnt ashes, it would not be possible to isolate DNA from the bones for DNA test, as DNA would have been completely destroyed but if those remains of bones (not burnt bones), then presence of the DNA was likely to be there though in a degraded form but still usable for establishing identity.”

Also, the director of CCMB said that the special labratory facility needed for conducting the proposed DNA test was not available in India, “the said test could not be carried out in this country (India).”

Indian Embassy in Japan requested to check bones examined

The Commission then requested the Indian Embassy in Japan – – in two separate letters December 17, 2002 and December 26, 2002 – to get the bones lying at the Renkoji Temple examined afresh, “preferably by or in collaboration with an expert and inform the Commission whether the bones seen and photographed were remains of burnt bones or pieces of unburnt bones.

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In its reply, the embassy on December 27, 2002, assured that they would “solicit the services of an expert and furnish his opinion to the Commission with promptitude”.

While the Embassy was looking for an expert, CCMB on December 10, 2002, in a letter to the Commission mentioned about a laboratory in Germany where the proposed DNA test could be conducted.

How Japan has kept Netajis remains from being tested for DNA keeping alive mystery around his death

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Wikimedia Commons.

The Commission then wrote to the person – Prof. Dr. Svante Paabo, Director, Department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Lieipzig, Germany to know the feasibility of a DNA test of the ashes kept in the Renkoji Temple.

In his reply, Dr. Paabo expressed his inability to perform for the work and advised the Commission to contact Prof. Mark Stoneking or Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys of the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester (UK).

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Prof. Jeffreys in his reply to the Commission expressed doubt about the success of a DNA test on bones samples which had been subjected to high temperatures and regretted his inability to do the job in his laboratory. He also advised the Commission to contact one of the national forensic service laboratories, saying that in his opinion, such laboratories were fully tooled up to perform the complex analysis required in the case.

He further suggested that the option was worth exploring in India.

The Commission in its report said that as per Terry Melton, a contact person advised by Prof Stoneking, “cremated remains are very unlikely to give a DNA profile.”

Melton, however, agreed to hold a “standard forensic mitochondrial DNA test on the ashes including making an attempt to recover degraded DNA, if necessary, provided that recognisable teeth or other anatomically identifiable parts were available therein.”

Melton also recommended a thorough anthropological evaluation of the remains and apprised the Commission of his requirements for the DNA analysis. He also stipulated certain preconditions which included the anthropologist’s report being made available prior to his proceeding to do the job.

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The test suggested by Melton emphasises the need of a thorough physical inspection by an expert of the contents of the casket kept in the Renkoji temple before he undertakes the job.

The Commission said that after the response by Prof. Jeffrey, it wrote to the Indian government on January 27, 2003, requesting them to collect and furnish to the Commission the particulars of the national forensic service laboratories in the UK, “but no reply was received by the Commission in this regard.”

How Japan has kept Netajis remains from being tested for DNA keeping alive mystery around his death

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Wikimedia Commons.

The March 26, 2003, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India, had advised the MHA – Ministry of Home Affairs. It told the embassy that they would revert to the Commission soon after receiving the decision/advice from MHA.

The Commission said that it decided to conduct DNA test of the ashes kept in the Renkoji temple soon after it received the report of inspection of the contents of the urn along with the photographs from the Indian Embassy in Japan.

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On May 31, 2004, Renkoji temple authorities had given their assent to a DNA test being conducted on the ashes subject to fulfilment of “certain conditions”.

The Commission accepted the conditions and informed the MEA on June 17, 2004, about its decision of holding DNA test of the ashes.

However, in April 2004, the Commission received a letter from the Director of Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Kolkata which had names and other particulars of three Japanese DNA scientists to enable the Commission to get a successful DNA test done on the ashes kept in the temple with the help of any one or more of those scientists who might be considered suitable for the job.

The Commission then wrote to CCMB, furnishing the particulars of the three scientists and enquiring about their competence and suitability for the proposed DNA test.

The CCMB then recommended the name of Prof. Saitou Naruya for carrying out the test. On June 11, 2004, Naurya negatived the possibility of a successful DNA test on the ashes in question.

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As per Naruya, “The DNA examination from such ‘ash’ is usually impossible because of critical damage to DNA and other biomolecules when a dead human body is burnt down into ashes and the only possibility may be to compare morphological similarity between some remnant teeth and/or skull in ash with some other reference material.”

On June 21, 2004, the Commission again wrote to Prof, Naruya, sending him six photographs and sought his “valued opinion” on the feasibility or otherwise of DNA test of the ashes as shown in those photographs.

Naruya replied to the Commission saying that he had examined the photographs and that in his opinion, “it was unlikely to extract DNA fragments by using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) from the bones as shown in the pictures for individual identification”.

Naurya contacted Dr. Yamamoto, a forensic DNA expert of Nagoya University, who agreed to examine the photos of bones.

After an examination of the photos, Dr. Yamamoto reached the “same conclusion” as Prof. Naruya had earlier and that all bones and teeth as shown in the pictures having received high heat, there was almost “no possibility to obtain DNA from the bone materials.”

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The Commission once again approached CCMB, where the ancient DNA facility reportedly became fully functional, increasing the prospect of the proposed DNA test of the ashes.

The Commission gave the photographs to CCMB which it received from the Indian Embassy in Japan for their re-examination and opinion.

How Japan has kept Netajis remains from being tested for DNA keeping alive mystery around his death

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Wikimedia Commons.

The CCMB director, after looking into photographs, opined that they showed “existence of completely burnt bones leaving very little hope for the survival for the DNA as well as relatively less charred bones wherefrom it might be possible to isolate DNA for the purpose of establishing the identity of the deceased.”

He also advised that scientists, specially a molecular biologist, might be requested to sort out the potentially less charred pieces of bones for being brought to India in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature.

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The Commission said, “Obviously, the proposed DNA test of the ashes, if feasible, depended on the access being given by the Renkoji temple authorities to a scientist for the purpose of collection of the potentially less charred pieces of bones from the contents of the urn kept in the temple.”

It was then, the need for physical inspections of the ashes by an expert came to fore again. The Commission then wrote to MEA on November 9, 2004, requesting the ministry to let them know whether the Renkoji temple authorities would accede to a request of allowing an expert to be deputed by the Commission to sort out potentially less charred bone pieces from the ashes kept in the urn for the purpose of ascertaining whether DNA could be extracted therefrom.

How Japan has kept Netajis remains from being tested for DNA keeping alive mystery around his death

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Wikimedia Commons.

On May, 2005, the Commission received from MEA saying that the Indian Mission in Japan having made, in deference to the Commission’s request, a formal proposal to the head priest of the Renkoji temple to allow a competent person to be deputed by the Commission to select potentially less charred bone pieces from the mortal remains lying the temple.

The Commission, in the interest of DNA testing of the ashes, again wrote to MEA on May 20, 2005, and said: “Selection of potentially less charred bone pieces from the ashes kept in the temple without the consent and active co-operation of the temple authorities being utterly impossible.”

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Not getting the response, the Commission, issued a reminder on July 4, 2005, to MEA and also forwarded a copy to the MHA.

The Commission further said that it did not receive any response in 2005 till the time it submitted its findings report.

What did the Commission conclude?

“From the foregoing it will be evident that so far as the DNA testing of the ashes is concerned, the reports received by the Commission from different experts at home and abroad practically projected a bleak prospect. In spite thereof, the Commission considering the faint possibility of the DNA testing as indicated by CCMB, made persistent efforts to persuade the temple authorities through MEA to allow physical inspection and collection of potentially less charred bone pieces from the casket lying in their custody,” the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry report on alleged disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose said.

It further said: “Even at the risk of repetition, that if the recommendations of Terry Melton referred to earlier were to be acted upon, such inspection was an absolute necessity. But on account of temple authorities’ reticence, the Commission could not proceed further in the matter.”

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