The Delhi High Court on Thursday asked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to take down his social media post which revealed the identity of a minor Dalit girl, raped and murdered in 2021, so that the child’s identity is protected worldwide.
In the post, which stands geo-blocked by social media platform X in the country, Gandhi published a photograph with the parents of the nine-year-old Dalit girl who died under suspicious circumstances on August 1, 2021, with her parents alleging that she was raped, murdered and cremated by a crematorium’s priest in southwest Delhi’s Old Nangal village.
Following the post, Gandhi’s account was suspended by the social media platform for some time but it was subsequently restored.
A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan Thursday observed although the post was stated to have been taken down by X, it continued to be available outside India and asked the counsel for Gandhi to have it removed.
“If we have to protect the identity of the victim, it is necessary it is done all over the world,” the court said.
“Why don’t you take it down? Please take down your post because worldwide it must come down. Please seek instructions…otherwise it will be picked up by press all over the world. It can’t be done like this. Please get it down,” the bench, also comprising Justice Mini Pushkarna, told Gandhi’s counsel advocate Tarannum Cheema.
The court was hearing a 2021 petition by social activist Makarand Suresh Mhadlekar seeking registration of an FIR against Gandhi for revealing the identity of the victim by publishing a photograph with her parents on X, formerly called Twitter.
In response to the petition, the Delhi Police said the petition has become infructuous after an investigation was ordered and the post made unavailable in India, and sought permission to file a status report in a sealed cover as it did not want to “scandalise” the matter.
Delhi government lawyer Santosh Kumar Tripathi said unless the main crime of rape was proven, the subsequent act of publishing the identity of an alleged victim does not become a crime and investigation on the issue of revelation of the victim’s identity by Gandhi was underway.
“The petition does not survive. It has become infructuous. Investigation has been ordered,” he said.
The court granted four weeks’ time to police to file a status report in a sealed cover.
Counsel for the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) contended that the identity of a victim of sexual assault has to be protected from the moment the crime comes to light and the protection does not come into force after the trial has concluded.
The NCPCR earlier said there are no exceptions to the law protecting the identity of minor victims of sexual offences, and “police must register an FIR and take consequential action”.
The counsel for the family of the child victim raised objections with respect to the discussion on the criminal case in an open court.
Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the petitioner, also opposed the police’s stand, saying the agency failed to understand the seriousness of the matter and the identity of the child has to be protected even at the stage of allegations.
It was also emphasised that the content continued to be available and was withheld only in India.
X’s counsel said the removal of the post worldwide involved issues concerning extraterritorial application of Indian laws.
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 petitioner has alleged that Gandhi violated the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which prohibit the disclosure of identity of minor victims of sexual offences.
The plea also sought initiation of appropriate legal action against Gandhi by NCPCR.
The matter would be heard next in January.