After his official Twitter account was disabled for publishing photographs of the family of a nine-year-old suspected rape and murder victim in Delhi last week in breach of laws, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi went to photo-sharing social media platform Instagram.
Gandhi declared he was guilty if fighting for justice for a rape and murder victim was a crime by posting a few notes on Instagram with the caption ‘daro mat… satyameva jayate’ (don’t fear…truth alone prevails). “If showing compassion and empathy is a crime. I am guilty.”
He went on to say that the message of compassion, love, and justice is universal, and that India’s 1.3 billion people will not be silenced. “They can lock us out on a platform. But they can’t lock out our voice for the sake of the people.”
The Congress claimed earlier in the day that the microblogging website had blocked its official Twitter handle, as well as those of a huge number of party leaders, including Gandhi, and members.
The accounts were blocked to safeguard individual privacy and safety, according to Twitter, after they shared photographs that breached company guidelines.
The grand old party took to Instagram as well, writing, “Twitter India has locked the official handle of the principal opposition party. This is an unprecedented attack on the voice of the people.”
The Congress leadership accused Twitter’s management of acting under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration. Randeep Surjewala, the party’s chief spokesperson, said the Centre would not be able to silence them by threatening Twitter. “How much will you scare Twitter at the behest of the police? This is not just an issue of freedom of speech, but it is the issue of raising the voice of a poor Valmiki Dalit girl for justice and bringing it before the country. Till justice is given to the poor girl, we will continue to raise this voice,” he said.
Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress general secretary, claimed that Twitter was working with the government to suffocate democracy. “Is Twitter following its own policy for the suspension of Congress leaders’ accounts or the Modi government’s? Why hadn’t it locked the account of SC commission that had tweeted similar photos before any of our leaders did?”
She went on to say that the true issue was the Dalit girl’s “brutal rape and forced cremation” in the heart of the national capital, and she questioned the prime minister’s silence on the matter.
“The real issue is the Delhi Police disallowing the lodging of an FIR for 15 hours. @narendramodi why have you not uttered a single word about this heinous crime against an innocent child?”
The website has blocked the party’s main Twitter handle as well as about 5,000 accounts of its key officials and workers, according to Rohan Gupta, the head of the Congress’s social media department.
“Twitter is clearly acting under the government’s pressure as it did not remove the same pictures shared by the Twitter account of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes for a few days,” he said.
The Twitter accounts of AICC general secretaries Randeep Surjewala, K C Venugopal, Harish Rawat, Ajay Maken, Manickam Tagore, Assam in-charge and former Union minister Jitendra Singh, and Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev have also been blocked, according to the party.
At a time when the country is only three days away from celebrating Independence Day, Rawat claims that opposition leaders’ freedom of expression is being stolen away.
On Facebook, the former Uttarakhand chief minister posed the question, “Have Twitter India and the Indian Constitution gotten so weak in a democracy?”
Opposition leaders’ voices are being silenced, according to Congress leader Sachin Pilot.
“The central government is betraying the countrymen by suppressing the voice of the opposition on issues related to the country,” he said in a tweet.
When contacted, a Twitter spokeswoman stated that the company’s policies are applied fairly and consistently to all users.
“We have taken proactive action on several hundred tweets that posted an image that violated our rules and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options. Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others and our aim is always to protect individual privacy and safety,” he said.
The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had complained to Twitter about Gandhi disclosing the identity of the accused sexual assault victim and her parents just days before. The rights organisation had ordered Twitter to take action against Gandhi’s account for infringing on the privacy of a young victim, as required by law.
Congress leaders have changed their Twitter handles to Rahul Gandhi’s, and some have even replaced their website display photos with the former party chief’s.
Meanwhile, the TMC has denounced Twitter’s action against Congress leaders.
“What’s going on? We strongly condemn the blocking of the accounts of @INCIndia and senior leaders of the Congress party,” Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O’Brien said in a tweet.