BJP slams Rahul over photo of Dalit rape victim’s family

  • Twitter unlocked his account on August 14 after he submitted a consent letter by the parents of the victim, authorising him to use the image.
Women hold a protest on August 4. The minor girl was allegedly raped and murdered by the four suspects on August 1. (Sanjeev Verma/HT)
Women hold a protest on August 4. The minor girl was allegedly raped and murdered by the four suspects on August 1. (Sanjeev Verma/HT)
Published on Aug 18, 2021 07:07 AM IST
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ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday accused former Congress president Rahul Gandhi of lying to the country after the mother of the nine-year-old Dalit girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi on August 1, told a news channel in an interview that the family didn’t give Gandhi consent to share any photographs of their meeting.

The Wayanad MP had on August 4 tweeted a photograph of his meeting the family of the victim, following which there was a complaint against him filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). His Twitter account was locked for a few days and the controversial tweet withheld even as the BJP accused him and his party of politicising the matter.

Twitter unlocked his account on August 14 after he submitted a consent letter by the parents of the victim, authorising him to use the image.

A day earlier, on August 13, the victim’s family was also heard telling news media that they had no objection to Gandhi sharing their photograph on social media as he did that in good faith.

But on Tuesday, the mother of the victim said something different to news channel Times Now. “We have not given consent to share the photos or reveal her (the victim) identity to anyone except the court,” the mother said.

Following this, the BJP launched a fresh attack on Gandhi, calling him “insensitive”, and demanded that his Twitter account be locked again. “Rahul Gandhi has lost credibility and is a habitual liar. The public has locked his political account, now Twitter should also lock his account,” party spokesperson Sambit Patra said.

Union minister for women and child development, Smriti Irani, joined in the tirade on Twitter: “That he lacks sensitivity, disrespects the law and lies on important issues was well known but using a child’s parents to score a political point over a rape crime is indicative of a depraved mindset. The former Congress President is beyond redemption.”

Twitter said the controversial tweet will remain withheld in India in compliance with local laws and its own terms of service, but reiterated that its decision to unlock Gandhi’s account was taken after its grievance channel in India went through the formal consent letter signed by the family.

Suresh Chaudhary, a lawyer representing the victim’s parents, said his clients hold a “neutral position” on the issue of sharing their images. “My clients have told me that they neither gave any written consent (to share their photograph), nor have they submitted any complaint in this connection,” said Chaudhary.

He further said that his clients are people who have little knowledge of social media or such consent. “They don’t even own a mobile phone. What would they understand about Twitter and Facebook?” said Chaudhary.

But a Congress functionary familiar with the matter said the family’s claim contradicts their previous claim. “In an earlier interview with India Today, the family said they had no objection to the photograph being shared,” the functionary said, requesting anonymity. “The fact that so many senior BJP leaders have made statements show how scared the party is of Rahul Gandhi.”

The functionary added that since August 4, when Gandhi’s Twitter account was locked over the post, he has refrained from posting on the microblogging platform. “He’s basically disappointed that the government of the day pressures private companies to interfere in the internal polity of the country,” the functionary said. “He has strong opinions on the way the social media entities are becoming monopolistic and overbearing.”

But an NCPCR official said the consent of the family is irrelevant in the case as the victim was a minor. “Only a sessions court judge can grant permission to allow the disclosure of information that can lead to the identification of the victim,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

NCPCR has already moved the Delhi high court over the incident. But on Tuesday, it asked social media giant Facebook to explain why a similar post by Rahul Gandhi made on its sister platform, Instagram, was still up. The post was a video shared by the Congress leader of his meeting with the family. The Commission exempted the social media company from appearing at the hearing on Tuesday, stating that it will share its order regarding the response in due course.

Facebook reacted by sending Gandhi an email (seen by HT), asking him to take down the post “expeditiously” as the NCPCR has alerted the company that it is in violation of Indian law.

People familiar with the matter said that the company was constructively engaging with NCPCR to address the issue. According to Facebook’s policies, if a post violates its community standards or local law, then the company can either notify the user to remove it or proactively block it.

Congress had said last week that nearly 5,000 Twitter accounts, including those of several senior Congress leaders and the party’s official handle, were temporarily locked on Thursday after they shared a photograph of Rahul Gandhi meeting the rape victim’s family even as the party mounted an attack on the central government for scuttling free speech. The microblogging platform, however, maintained that it “impartially” enforces its rules and terms of service.

Gandhi’s controversial tweet was in Hindi in which he had said, “Parents’ tears are saying only one thing—their daughter, the daughter of this country, deserves justice. And I am with them on this path to justice.”

The child rights body said the tweet violated the Juvenile Justice Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

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