Published: 08th June 2020
Why these Kerala politicians posting photos of distributing TVs to kids for online classes is unlawful — and how they reacted!
Dhisha, a collective of young activists has written to the Education Minister and the Child Rights Commission stating the same. This is how the politicians responded to the claims
On November 18, 2019, the Director of Public Instruction, Government of Kerala had issued a circular to all the education departments and schools in Kerala, laying down rules about distributing and donating study materials and equipment to poor students. The circular says that it must be done in a discrete manner, protecting the child's identity, privacy and dignity. It also says that such distribution drives must not be done in a public event. This was laid down under a provision of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Six months down the line, schools in Kerala reopened on June 1, 2020. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing norms, the classes were to be held online and broadcast via televisions. Soon, there began a number of campaigns and initiatives by various organisations across the state to donate televisions and gadgets to the underprivileged students, to make sure that no child misses their classes. A lot of prominent figures including ministers, MLAs and MPs too took part in these campaigns and donated equipment to a lot of students across the state.
However, a lot of them forgot to keep their cameras at home. Soon, photographs and videos of them distributing gadgets to students flooded social media. Dhisha, a group of young activists have now sent a letter to the Kerala Education Minister C Raveendranath and the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, stating that these images and Facebook posts violate the circular. "This also violates an order by the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights which says that study material distribution must not be publicised," reads the letter sent by the organisation's Kerala president Dinu K. The letter names 22 politicians including MLAs and MPs - C K Hareendran, D K Murali, C K Asha, A K Balan, K V Vijayadas, K Ansalan, P Unni, P V Anvar, V K Prasanth, K Babu, K Rajan, Geetha Gopi, U Prathibha, A C Moideen, R Ramachandran, K J Maxy, Veena George, A M Ariff, T N Prathapan, Ramya Haridas, Dean Kuriakose and Thomas Chazhikkadan.
Another MP Jose K Mani, during a distribution drive
Of these politicians, Edexlive was able to get in touch with 11 of them. Of them, MLA C K Hareendran said that he had donated a TV to a library and not to anyone personally and has not violated any rules. "The children in the photograph might be the children may have come to the library to read," he said.
MLA C K Asha too thinks that she did not violate any rule, because she "did not make a personal donation." "This wasn't my personal donation. In case I'm donating equipment using my money, I won't take photos with the beneficiaries. But here, I was asked to give the TV on someone else's behalf. I don't think this is a violation," she said. However, commenting on the same lawyer Harish Vasudevan, an advisory member of Dhisha, said, "Her post revealed the faces of the children. This still makes her liable."
A K Balan, Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes, Law, Culture and Parliamentary Affairs, Government of Kerala, said that he did not violate anyone's privacy. "We are merely trying to bridge the gap here," he said. However, he has now removed the photographs of the students from his Facebook post. MLA R Ramachandran, said that his intention was to motivate others to donate. "The intention was never to affect their privacy. I will be careful from now on," he said.
MLA Veena George had uploaded photographs of herself with three children, who reside in an orphanage in her constituency, on their first day of school. She tells us that she only went there to encourage the children and did not donate any equipment or gadgets to them. "I have donated gadgets to students in the past. But I never clicked photographs with them," she said.
MLA P Unni, Minister A C Moideen and MP Thomas Chazhikkadan denied posting these photographs on their Facebook pages. "I do not use Facebook. I have a basic mobile phone, through which I can only make phone calls. Someone who was there at the event may have uploaded the photograph," said Unni. However, the photograph still hasn't been removed from the MLA's page. U Prathibha declined to comment on her Facebook post.
Another MLA K J Maxi said, "The children and their families have no issue with this." MP Ramya Haridas, on the other hand, said that she "never noticed it". The other politicians were not available for a comment. This copy will be updated when they respond.
We spoke to a C J Antony, a former member of the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights who explained the legal and social side of the issue to us. "In many cases, I have seen the photographs of these children blurred. However, revealing their faces and identity has a lot of repercussions. It is unlawful and makes a mockery of their status," he says.
Recently, the Rajasthan government had banned photography during food distribution drives.