New Delhi, Oct. 7: Anonymous emails have been doing the rounds in the past few days, revealing the purported name of the juvenile convicted in the December 16 gang-rape and murder case.
Some rights activists who received the mails said that steadily, the online discourse in the case was moving away from questions of justice and women’s safety to religious profiling of the accused.
One of the mails, using bright blue and red letters and titled The Untold Story: A must read, refers to the gang-rape case, purports to reveal the name and other details of the convicted juvenile and emphasises his religious identity.
“Unprecedented and exceptional publicity was given repeatedly, time and again to the first five names. Regarding the sixth one, the name was kept a top secret as though it is a National Defense Secret or most confidential and classified information. Can you fathom or comprehend the reason for maintenance of such an extraordinary secrecy?
“Well, the sixth name is given here-under and now you can easily understand the reason behind the secrecy,” the letter reads, the choice of words suggesting that the mail was drafted by an educated person.
The activists fear that such claims and purported disclosures, articulated on social networks, will undermine the very structure of the Juvenile Justice Act and could foment communal disharmony.
“Not only are these people playing with the life of a young person but they are going into the dangerous area of religious profiling. Some communal elements are using the identity of the juvenile to spread hatred. Here, I believe the system has failed. It was the primary responsibility of the police to ensure that the identity of the boy was protected. All those cops who are responsible for violating the JJ Act should be brought to book,” said child rights activist Anant Kumar Asthana.
He had earlier complained to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights about what he said were misleading reports on the juvenile’s role in the December 16 case. The Juvenile Justice Board, which was hearing the case and which had barred media coverage of the proceedings, had failed to stop reporters from being present in court on the day of judgment.
However, there are enough laws to protect the identity of the accused. Juveniles in conflict with the law are tried under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. Section 21 of the JJ Act prohibits the disclosure of any detail that can lead to the identification of an accused.
Violation of Section 21 is punishable with a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000. A 2012 order of Delhi High Court also underscored the need to maintain complete confidentiality in cases involving juveniles.
An application on the alleged role of Delhi police in leaking the name and other details of the juvenile in the gang-rape case is pending before the board. It will be heard on October 19.
Imran Ali, professor of media laws at Jamia Millia Islamia and the advocate who filed the application, feels that the purported revelations and clamour in the social media about the juvenile are dangerous not only because they violate numerous JJ Act provisions but also because they raise the spectre of communal hatred.
“A section of the social media is alleging that the juvenile is being protected because he belongs to a particular community, and another section is demanding that he be hanged because he is from that community. These are setting dangerous precedents,” Ali said.
“Also, add to this the allegations of barbarism attributed to him, something that the JJ Board has termed as vastly exaggerated. All this would mean that the juvenile, even after completing his sentence, would continue to be targeted. Here, the blame is squarely on the police as they have violated sections of the act and should be taken to task.”
A legal aid councillor who was present in the JJB court during the trial of the juvenile said that on the day of the verdict, “more than a hundred journalists were present in the courtroom in violation of the law”.
“The names are revealed at the level of the police station. So, the cops too need to be reined in,” said a member of a legal aid council.