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Let me start penning my thoughts by first and foremost pointing out on a bitter note that it is most shocking to learn that some of the leading media houses in our country have grievously blundered in revealing the identity of the Kathua minor rape victim which shook the entire world. This should never have happened at the first place. It is known very well that the identity of a rape victim is never disclosed under any circumstances.

It is to be noted that the Delhi High Court had on April 13 taken suo motu cognizance of the media houses disclosing the details of the gangrape victim. Among the prominent media houses who erred grievously in naming the rape victim include NDTV, India TV, Republic TV, The Week, First Post, Deccan Chronicle, The Navbharat Times, The Pioneer, The Indian Express, The Statesman, The Hindu, The Times Of India, IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd and apart from them even NCW, DCW, UOI and NCPCR also erred similarly. It is very rare to see so many prominent media houses among others getting caught on the wrong side of the law!

As it turned out, the Delhi High Court took very strong exception to this disclosure of name of rape victim which is never disclosed in public. A Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar in the landmark order titled Court On Its Own Motion v Union of India and Ors while slapping the fine of Rs 10 lakh stressed that revealing the identity of rape victim carries imprisonment. It should never be made public.

Needless to say, the identity of a rape victim cannot be disclosed and those guilty of doing so are liable to face punishment of up to two years under Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code. According to sub-section(1) of this Section: 'Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under Section 376, Section 376A, Section 376B, Section 376C or Section 376D is alleged or found to have been committed (hereafter in this Section referred to as the victim) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.” All media houses and all citizens of India must always next time be cautious of this and refrain from revealing the identity of the rape victim under any circumstances!

It is noteworthy that the Delhi High Court while not imposing any jail term asked all media houses which revealed the identity of the 8-year-old Kathua gangrape-cum-murder victim and to whom notices were issued to pay Rs 10 lakh fine each towards victim compensation fund maintained by the Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Services Authority for disbursement to victims/families of the deceased victims of sexual violence. The court will transfer the amount to it on receiving it. The next date of hearing in the case is 25 April.

Let me hasten to add here that the media houses on realizing their folly wasted no time in tendering their due apologies for making the victim's identity public. The Delhi High Court noted their submission that, 'The reporting in the print and electronic media enabling the identification of the eight-year old victim of gangrape and murder was on account of ignorance of the requirement of law and on a misconception that the reporting would facilitate the prosecution of the persons in right earnest.” At this, the court which was initially in favour of imposing a hefty penalty initially reduced it to Rs 10 lakh on each of the media house.

To be sure, the Delhi High Court was also assured by all the media houses that they will effect wide and continuous publicity of the laws on privacy of victims of sexual offences. The Delhi High Court Bench after taking suo motu cognizance of the media houses disclosing the details of the Kathua gangrape minor victim on April 13 had appointed senior advocate Arvind Nigam as amicus curiae while Centre was represented by Standing Counsel Monica Arora.

To put things in perspective, the Delhi High Court observed right at the beginning that, 'An incident of an alleged gangrape and murder in the State of Jammu & Kashmir has made national headlines. Unfortunately, the nature and manner of reporting of the alleged offence is being effected in absolute violation of specific prohibition of law disrespecting the privacy of victim which is required to be maintained in respect of the identity of a victim. The victim in the case in question is stated to be a girl child who is only eight years of age”.

Going forward, the Delhi High Court also noted that, 'These reports not only carry the photographs and name of the minor girl child victim, disclosing her complete identity but the manner and contents of reporting actually also does injustice to the privacy and dignity of the child victim. What is even more unfortunate is that such disclosure and publication of an image is being repeated by almost the entire media.” It also lamented that, 'We are also pained by the fact that no authority including the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR); the National Commission for Women (NCW) or the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) have even reacted to this terrible development”. The Union of India through Secretary Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as well as the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the National Commission for Women and the Delhi Commission for Women shall stand impleaded as party respondent nos. 1 to 4 respectively. It also directed that, 'The official respondents shall forthwith take steps to prohibit any disclosure of the name, address, photographs, family details, school details, neighbourhood or any other particulars which may have an effect of leading to the disclosure of the identity of the child victim, by any person(s) or authorities.”

On a cautionary note, the Delhi High Court also held that, 'The media has to be circumspect in reporting to the extent it is in contravention of the law. Freedom of the press has to be balanced with the integrity of the judicial process, and must comport with the requirements of the law. No violation is permissible.” It also directed that, 'We hereby prohibit the media respondents from effecting any publication including the name, address, photographs, family details, school details, neighbourhood or any other particulars, which may have an effect of leading the disclosure of the identity of the child victim.” It is the bounden duty of the media to follow in totality what the Delhi High Court has said so categorically and convincingly!

Sure enough, media from now onwards will always be itself careful enough to not repeat what they did earlier which led Delhi High Court to act against them on its own motion and impose a fine of Rs 10 lakh on each of the media houses! It is in their own best interest. They can blithely afford to ignore it only at the cost of their own peril!

Why talk about media alone? Even NCW, DCW and all other big organizations as well as all citizens must always abide by what the Delhi High Court has held in this landmark case and refrain from ever disclosing any information about the rape victim in public. In no uncertain terms this landmark order of the Delhi High Court delivered by none other than the Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Gita Mittal along with Justice C Hari Shankar needs to be not just applauded but always adhered to in letter and spirit by not media groups to whom it is mainly directed but also by each and every citizen of India because the privacy of the rape victim has to be protected under all circumstances and this is exactly what loud and clear message the Delhi High Court has ought to send out by its landmark order!

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