#MeToo: After activists' letter, Subodh Gupta's defamation suit condemned by JNU students in a statement

  • Nearly 40 artists and artists and art collectives condemned the Delhi High Court's ruling in the defamation suit filed by Subodh Gupta.

  • The court directed all social media platforms including Facebook, Google, Instagram to take down posts dealing with the #MeToo allegations against Gupta.

  • The signatories say that the court's injunction "is exactly what survivors have feared when choosing anonymity".

Nearly 40 artists and art collectives condemned the Delhi High Court's ruling in the defamation suit filed by Indian contemporary artist Subodh Gupta against the administrator of Scene and Herd, an Instagram account which posted multiple anonymous allegations of sexual harassment against him.

 #MeToo: After activists letter, Subodh Guptas defamation suit condemned by JNU students in a statement

Subodh Gupta. Image via Reuters.

In an open letter, the signatories said that the court's injunction, directing all social media platforms including Facebook, Google, Instagram to take down posts dealing with the #MeToo allegations against Gupta “is exactly what survivors have feared when choosing anonymity. This is an attempt to dissuade others from sharing further experiences of harassment and violence, and to perpetuate a culture of fear.” The 38 signatories of the letter include prominent artists and activists such as Kadak Collective, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Munem Wasif, Sandhya Menon, Akansha Rastogi, and Fiza Khatri.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Gupta cropped up on 13 December, 2018 as the second wave of the #MeToo movement took over timelines in India. He had categorically denied all the accusations calling them "false and fabricated" even as he stepped down from the post of guest curator of the then-approaching Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa.

The full statement below was posted by Hyperallergic, a digital arts magazine:

Indian artist Subodh Gupta filed a civil defamation suit on 18 September 2019 against the Instagram handle @herdsceneand for allegedly “publishing false, malicious and defamatory content”. Mr. Gupta is seeking ‘token’ damages of Rs. 5 crore (Rs. 50 million). The Delhi High Court on 30 September 2019 directed that the posts referring to Mr. Gupta on @herdsceneand be taken down. Additionally, the Court directed Google to take down from its search results a list of URLs that report on the sexual harassment allegations against Subodh Gupta, and directed Instagram to provide details of the “person/entity” running the Instagram handle to the Court in a sealed cover.

Given the complex personal and professional terrains that have to be navigated in the arts and cultural sector, those who speak out against sexual harassment choose to remain anonymous due to public stigma, intimidation, fear of losing work and other forms of structural violence.

@herdsceneand is an important platform that gives voice to survivors whose accounts of sexual harassment and abuse of power have been systematically silenced in the past. The platform creates an environment of collectivity and solidarity in an otherwise hostile context. The urgent attention the platform has brought to the prevalence and normalisation of sexual harassment and abuse of power has put pressure on art institutions to revisit and strengthen their policies and mechanisms to work towards safer spaces and more equitable work environments. These are beginnings for a lot of hard work that needs to be done yet.

This defamation suit against @herdsceneand is an outright move to silence the survivors and gag the platform that gave them a voice while protecting their identities. This is exactly what survivors have feared when choosing anonymity. This is an attempt to dissuade others from sharing further experiences of harassment and violence, and to perpetuate a culture of fear.

The survivors who have shared their painful accounts with great courage MUST be protected. Intimidation and attempts to discredit and silence their voices MUST be strongly condemned.

We ask you to condemn this defamation suit and show solidarity towards the survivors by:

– sharing news and other coverage of this case widely on social media to register protest against this attempt to silence

– archiving / documenting the posts that have been ordered to be removed by Instagram as a way to keep a record of the survivors statements

– writing to us with any information, advice, ideas for support relating to this case and/or other cases of sexual harassment. Please write to insolidaritywith.survivors@gmail.com.

On 4 October, the students of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University issued a statement condemning "the defamation lawsuit against @herdsceneand and the strategic intimidation targetted at it". They termed the defamation lawsuit filed by Gupta an "obscene display of power", adding that such legal recourse is pitted against survivors.

The statement credits @herdsceneand with starting a conversation about the normalised culture of sexual harassment and abuse, calling the Instagram account "an important platform for survivors to speak about abuse..."

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Updated Date: Oct 05, 2019 17:43:15 IST