A year ago the world was taken by a storm by the growing #MeToo campaign. It saw women and girls stand up against incidents of sexual harassment bringing light onto the famous names in the country. ‘Scene and Herd’ is the name of the Instagram account, which was created last year to branch the #MeToo movement into India’s art community. The account was launched and operated under full anonymity and described it to be a platform for ‘cutting through BS in the world of Indian Art, one predator and power play at a time’. Though it had a meagre follower count of 5,000, it succeeded to throw out many allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
Scene and Heard- Allegations of sexual harassment against artist Gupta.
On 13 December 2018 the page had published allegations against, one Subodh Gupta saying that, in the capacity of the guest curator at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Delhi, Gupta had behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with a number of the festival employees. It also said that there is a word of caution in the industry which says to be ‘careful’ around him. However, the post claims that “I have personally received multiple inappropriate advances and unwanted touching from him, even after clearly saying no.”
There was not just one single post of harassment against Gupta, in one another post it had described how the assault had taken place. It says, ‘he grabbed the hand touched the stomach, breasts, shoulders, pulled at bra straps, rubbed the thighs” of various women present at the festival, and had loudly asked a senior gallerist, pointing at a new assistant he had hired, ‘do you think I should fuck her tonight?’.
Another post alleged that in an art festival back in 2008, Subodh had tried to grope a woman at an art event. All these allegations were running anonymous under the same Instagram handle.
After a year of these allegations put at Subodh, he has moved the High Court with a suit of defamation. In pursuance of the said matter, the Delhi High Court has ordered Facebook (parent company of Instagram) to reveal the identity of the account’s creator, which will be used in response to a civil defamation lawsuit launched by Subodh Gupta. Therefore, both Google, as well as Instagram, have been directed to take down the said post and immediately reveal the identity of the person who posted these allegations.
Google Inc. files a review petition, says abuse of Freedom of Speech
A total count of 18 news articles were to be removed by Google, as per the decision of the Delhi High Court. In response to the direction by the Delhi High Court, Google has filed for review saying that compliance with the orders of the court will have a “chilling effect on free speech.”
In its review petition, Google has cited that the direction to take down these articles, if complied with will be blatantly against ‘public interest’. The giant search engine has also stated that the case was originally filed by Gupta only with the intention to put an unreasonable restraint on the freedom of speech and expression on the internet as well as freedom of the press.
Google disposed before the Delhi High Court that the normal recourse in the case of alleged defamation, some level of inquiry is required into the allegations, before granting of an injunction. However, in the instant case, Gupta had asked for an injunction and the same was immediately granted to him without any inquiry, whatsoever. Instead, the level of inquiry in these cases should have been high higher to inquire into the allegations, and whether or not the claims as made by Gupta had in actual defamed him. The search engine giant said that there is a need for high threshold “to keep a fair balance between the constitutional right of free speech and individual rights.”
Google has sought a change in the order of the court saying that the role of Google as a search engine is to merely index information which is already available on the internet via third-party websites. The information control on these third-party websites are beyond the control and supervision of Google, as they are neither the creators of the said content nor can own or control the information of third party websites. Therefore, Google is neither hosting the allegations or information as in question nor publishing it. These are independent websites, like Scroll and Economic Times who have published the news, but they have not been summoned. This issue has already been stated in the application made by Google before the court.
However, Facebook has complied with the direction of the Delhi High Court and removed the posts on Instagram, in furtherance of which the allegations were set out. However, it has only be removed for the users in India and not world-wide. Therefore, people not living in India can still view the posts.
The status of artists Gupta’s business post the #MeToo allegation:
In his petition before the High Court, he has mentioned that all his art galleries which were once covered and sold and that his work has “actively distanced themselves” from him. The crux of the petition filed by Subodh is that due to the unwelcome allegations brought out against him, it had adversely affected the sale of his artwork and thus his only source of livelihood was in distress. Due to the allegations put on him, his family members and himself are facing “immense social and professional harassment”, says the petition.
In a manner, this was seen to be a move to claim a large sum of damages as against his loss of reputation. It has been observed in India that individuals have the right to file for defamation with two types of reliefs. If the relief granted is only token damages, then they expect the court ruling to make up to the loss of reputation. However, when the sum of damages is large in number, then it is expected that the figure is backed up by precise detail of the actual losses incurred. The claim of damages as forwarded by Subodh Gupta comes up to Rs. 5 crore, which is as against “incalculable loss in his professional and personal engagements”.
However, as per a report of The Wire, Gupta is still enjoying the support of the three major galleries that have handled his work in the past. As against his claim that professional engagements have distanced themselves from him, the same is not being shown publically. His international collaboration for housing and selling his art is the Galleria Continua and Hauser and Wirth. In India, his work is sold by the Nature Morte gallery; both have continuously been working with him since the allegation.