Why can’t New Delhi block the Prajwal Revanna sex videos on the internet?

A large number of the videos from Karnataka showing the acts of sexual assault with the survivors' faces clearly visible. Why is the union govt not blocking such content?

The sex tape scandal involving Prajwal Revanna continues to unsettle Karnataka, with concern over unblurred videos circulating online (photo: PTI)
The sex tape scandal involving Prajwal Revanna continues to unsettle Karnataka, with concern over unblurred videos circulating online (photo: PTI)

Naheed Ataulla

There is growing concern over the sex tapes from Hassan, with unblurred faces of identifiable women still being circulated on the internet.

The sleazy sex scandal that surrounds the sitting JD(S) MP from Hassan, Prajwal Revanna—who happens to be the grandson of former prime minister H.D. Devegowda—continues to rock Karnataka. Alongside, there is indignation at inaction by the government, the sheer lack of effort to protect the victims from further harm.

Of course, leaving their identity exposed and allowing these videos to continue to circulate makes them even more vulnerable to both further physical abuse and violence as well as social stigma and ostracisation.

Already two former employees of the Revanna household, one allegedly a victim and another an accessory or an eyewitness, are said to be missing. One of them is said to have been kidnapped.

While the state government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) on 27 April, the SIT does not seem to have made much headway beyond serving notices to various people involved to appear before itself.

Prajwal Revanna himself is said to have fled to Germany on 27 April; his lawyer has informed the SIT that the MP should return in a week’s time.

The Karnataka High Court had, in September 2023, disqualified Prajwal Revanna from holding office, upholding a petition that accused him of filing a false affidavit about his property in 2019. But while the high court had debarred him from contesting any election for the next six years, the Supreme Court granted a stay and ruled that he would be able to contest the 2024 elections.

Polling took place in Hassan on 26 April, during the second phase of the elections—this was exactly two days after the sex tapes began to be circulated through pen drives left in parks and at bus stops by unknown persons.

The MP had obtained a gag order against the media in June 2023, restraining them from publishing reports based on unverified and fake videos designed to tarnish his reputation. The court order was unusual, because no specific material was cited and the order was not just vague but covered anything and everything.

The news portal Newsminute claimed that in Bengaluru, the courts had issued as many as 600 gag orders on the pleas of politicians, with the largest number being from the BJP, restraining various media organisations (cited by name) from publishing any defamatory or unverified material.

The present scandal broke in December 2023 when a lawyer and BJP activist from Hassan, Devaraje Gowda, claimed to be in possession of 2,769 explicit video tapes of forced or consensual sex acts involving a certain politician. He wrote to the BJP’s national general secretary, B.L. Santhosh, and state president Vijayendra, informing them of the videos in his possession.

He also requested that the BJP should not align with the Janata Dal (Secular) and should refrain from supporting Prajwal Revanna’s renomination from Hassan.

However, the BJP went ahead and forged an alliance with the JD(S) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself came out to campaign on behalf Prajwal Revanna, calling on voters to ensure his victory.

And now, it seems the SIT has its work cut out for it. It must first of all establish that these explicit videos are not morphed or manipulated.

It must thereafter establish which camera or mobile phone was used to record these acts.

In parallel, it must identify the victims and the alleged rapists. Even if the videos are doctored, a plausible case can be made out against using the victims' images in this fashion.

The SIT will also have to evaluate the time stamps and establish a sequence, if the videos turn out to be real.

Recording the statements of the identified survivors and witnesses, and those allegedly responsible for the harm, and collecting other circumstantial evidence comes almost last, even though most pertinent in court.

And of course, along the way, the SIT must also unearth why such a large number of sex tapes, 2,769 of them, were stored by any individual or group. This in turn leads to further questions: Was blackmail involved? Who shared the tapes on the internet?

Assault and rape, recording the crime, storage and distribution of the clips and sharing unblurred images of the victims are all crimes under the law.

It is estimated that this set includes there is unblurred footage of over 70 women, including JD(S) party workers, wives of JD(S) workers, public servants, mediapersons and others, as reported by Newsminute.

Prajwal Revanna’s uncle, former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, has accused the Karnataka deputy chief minister, Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar, of making the obscene videos viral. "It is the mahan nayaka (great leader), the DyCM who made the videos viral and outraged the privacy of women in the videos. That's Shivakumar's culture, who holds a monopoly over producing sleazy videos," he has said.

Kumaraswamy's first reaction to the sex scandal, however, was: "Upu tindana vanu, neeru kudiya beku (one who has consumed salt has to drink water)."

On 30 April. the JD(S) core committee suspended Prajwal Revanna from the party until the allegations against him have been probed. However, that raises another question: did they know of the existence of the tapes, like the BJP purportedly did?

One of the drivers employed by the Revanna family, Kartik, claimed that he had worked for them for 17 years, but quit following a land dispute. He claimed he had approached Devaraje Gowda to get the injunction against the videos vacated and Gowda had sought a copy of the videos to submit them to the judge. He also claimed that there was a gag order and court injunction against him as well.

This was before he went missing. Now Kumaraswamy claims Shivakumar has shifted him to Malaysia...

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