The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) told the Delhi High Court on Thursday that social media posts by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi “revealing the identity” of a minor Dalit girl, raped and killed in 2021, was in violation of the law protecting the identity of the victim.
The child rights body presented its stand before the court in an affidavit filed by it on a petition seeking registration of an FIR against Gandhi for publishing a photograph with the parents of the victim that led to her identification.
“Shri Rahul Gandhi posted a picture of his meeting with the parents of the minor victim girl on his social media accounts thereafter revealing the identity of the minor girl. The tweet/post of .. Shri Rahul Gandhi is in the violation of provisions of Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 which makes it explicitly clear that any information including family details should not be published in any form of media which could lead to the identification of any minor victim,” said the reply affidavit by NCPCR.
Besides the Juvenile Justice Act, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and Indian Penal Code also make disclosing the identity of a minor victim a punishable offence, NCPCR said.
In March, the court had sought the response of NCPCR on the petition by Makarand Suresh Mhadlekar, a social activist, seeking registration of an FIR against Gandhi for allegedly revealing the identity of the minor Dalit victim, raped and murdered in 2021, by publishing a photograph with her parents on Twitter.
A nine-year-old Dalit girl had died under suspicious circumstances on August 1, 2021, with her parents alleging that she was raped, murdered and cremated by a crematorium priest in southwest Delhi’s Old Nangal village.
Micro blogging website, Twitter, had earlier submitted that “nothing survived” in the petition as the tweet in question has been “geo-blocked” and was not available in India. Twitter’s counsel had also informed that initially Gandhi’s entire account was suspended by the social media platform but it was later restored.
On Thursday, a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Narula listed the petition for further hearing on November 23.
In its affidavit, NCPCR said in view of the “serious offence” committed by the Congress politician, it had forwarded the complaint to Delhi Police and Twitter for removal of the post in question and taking necessary action against his Twitter handle.
Subsequently, while the tweet was withheld in India, it has not been removed and is available outside the country and therefore Twitter’s inaction was contributing towards disclosure of the identity of the victim in violation of Indian laws, the affidavit stated.
In response to the complaint, Delhi Police informed it had taken cognisance of the matter which was being probed by its crime branch, the affidvit said.
NCPCR contended that “merely hiding the social media post in India was not sufficient for the purpose of hiding the identity of the victim as true meaning and effect has to be given in letter and spirit to Right to Privacy and Right to dignity as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.
“Looking into the gravity of the offence and the direction of Hon’ble Courts in various cases, mere withholding of the said post in India shall not reduce the accountability of the social media company – Twitter Inc,” the child right body said.
“It is pertinent to mention here that the said post can still be accessed and is still available in public domain throughout the world and consequently the inaction of the Twitter Inc contributes into disclosure of the identity of the victim, which is in violation of Indian laws,” it stated.
It said a letter was also issued to another social media platform Instagram for removal of a similar post and taking necessary action against Gandhi.
It said the post in question was also posted by the verified account of the Indian National Congress on Twitter and has been largely re-tweeted and circulated on Twitter, which continues to violate the provisions which prohibit the disclosure of identity of the victim.
Necessary action to stop the circulation of the photo of the parents of the victim is also required to be taken, it said.
On October 5, 2021, a bench headed by then Chief Justice DN Patel had issued notice to Twitter on the petition which alleged that Gandhi was “attempting to take political mileage out of the unfortunate incident”.
The court had then refused to issue notice to other respondents, i.e. Gandhi, the Delhi Police and NCPCR on the public interest litigation (PIL) at that stage.
The plea has also sought initiation of appropriate legal action against Gandhi by NCPCR.