CBI investigation into the rape videos circulated on WhatsApp ordered by the Supreme Court

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On Friday, the Apex Court took a grave view against the rape videos circulating on social networking websites and popular messaging services. The Court ordered an inquiry into the matter involving 2 rape cases by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The rape videos were brought into the limelight earlier in February by Sunitha Krishnan, through her own anti-trafficking NGO ‘Prajwala’.

Justices Madan B Lokur and Uday U. Lalit comprised the special social justice bench observed that not only were the two incident of rape abhorrent and gruesome, the insolence and impunity with which the crimes were perpetrated is indicative of the scant regard the offenders had for the judicial and criminal justice system.

The bench had taken suomoto cognisance of the matter vis-à-vis a letter written by Ms. Krishnan on behalf of Prajwala. Ms. Krishnan alleged that she had written the said letter, after hitting a wall when the law enforcement agencies failed to take note of the matter or gauging the identity of the accused.

Earlier, Sunitha Krishnan had been sent two videos on her WhatsApp account, which showed the two rape cases being committed. Herself a victim of gang-rape, Ms. Krishnan, furious at the impunity, edited the videos and posted them on popular video viewing channel, YouTube, so that the perpetrators may be identified. However, the police as well as the Union Home Secretary neither showed any interest nor initiative in pursuing the matter or taking swift action, even after Ms. Krishnan had formally submitted a copy of the 2 videos to them. The first video clip, alleged to have been shot in Delhi/NCR, is of a rape incident, while the second clip shows the gang rape of a young girl by 5 men in what appears to be Bengali speaking area. Notices have been issued by the Supreme Court to Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Delhi in order to garner information relating to the status of the probe with respect to the two incidents.

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Amidst complaints of the two videos being propagated on several social networking websites, the Court has also taken cognisance of the liability of such networks and website portals. A notice issued to the Ministry of Home Affairs as well the Department of Telecommunications and the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation into the matter, was put in motion after the complaint filed by Ms. Krishnan surfaced. Aparna Bhatt, the counsel appearing on behalf of Prajwala, was asked to submit a DVD acting as a record of the 2 incidents, for CBI’s perusal.

The bench observed that social networking portals cannot be allowed to propagate such heinous videos, after a list of all the impugned websites was submitted by Ms. Krishnan. Further, the Court also wanted to gather the Central Government’s response on Krishnan’s plea that a task force against sexual crimes be set up within the Home Ministry along with an efficient mechanism facilitating reports against such videos or a toll free number for the same, which also protects the identity of the complainant.

Sunitha Krishnan also requested the MHA to ally with messaging platforms and websites for the prevention of such videos from being propagated. She asked the Court to direct States to facilitate the imparting of special training at countering instances of cyber-crime, in her letter submitted to the Supreme Court.

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by Siddhartha Singh.