#MeToo: I'm a whistle-blower in Art Fraternity, Instagram account ‘Herdsceneand’ tells Delhi HC in defamation case by Subodh Gupta
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#MeToo: I'm a whistle-blower in Art Fraternity, Instagram account ‘Herdsceneand’ tells Delhi HC in defamation case by Subodh Gupta

'Herdsceneand' has asserted that the anonymity of the victims did not indicate that the allegations were malicious and unsubstantiated.

Aditi Singh

In response to artist Subodh Gupta’s defamation case against it, Instagram account ‘Herdsceneand’ has informed the Delhi High Court that it was merely a ‘whistle-blower’, a neutral platform which intended to bring out the instances of sexual misconduct and harassment in the Art Fraternity, as part of the #MeToo Movement.

'Heresceneand' has stated that in the absence of an Internal Committee to deal with such instances, the victims of sexual harassment wrote to it about their personal experiences, knowing that the anonymity would protect them from retaliation in the hands of influential members of the Art Fraternity.

Gupta had filed a defamation suit against 'Herdsceneand’ last year, following the publication of anonymous sexual harassment allegations against him.

On the last date of hearing, a single Judge Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw had allowed ‘Herdsceneand’ to maintain anonymity. The Court had granted liberty to the person behind 'Herdsceneand' to file his/her vakalatnama in a sealed cover and to furnish redacted copies of his/her written statement, applications etc. to the other parties at this stage.

In the written statement filed before the Court, 'Herdsceneand' has claimed that she/he has been a part of the Arts fraternity for over 10 years, both in India and abroad, and cared deeply about the space of women in this Profession.

It is further informed that in the absence of a formal mechanism to raise/address the grievances of victims of sexual harassment, an Instagram account, 'Herdsceneand' was made on October 8, 2018 to "bring to the forefront cases of sexual misconduct and harassment stemming from the wrongful exercise of power by persons having position and influence in the profession".

The Court is further informed that the stories shared on the platform were part of the growing #metoo Movement which was making its way through many professional spaces.

The response reads,

“It was in light of this current situation in the Indian Art world where the victims seemed to feel helpless that there was a severe need for a public calling out of such incidents to put all interested persons on guard, which the Defendant, with public interest and social need in mind deemed it fit to provide a neutral platform for carrying and sharing these incidents of sexual harassment.”

'Herdsceneand' has asserted that anonymity of the victims in no manner indicated that the allegations were malicious and unsubstantiated.

It only showed the fear that many victims have in a professional system and setup which is controlled by certain few powerful persons, it is added.

'Herdsceneand' has therefore claimed that its posts were truthful, amounted to ‘fair comment’ and were shared in good faith and in public interest.

After being informed that the person behind Defendant No. 1 ('Herdsceneand') was not the same as the person who had allegedly suffered sexual harassment at the hands of Subodh Gupta, the Court today directed the counsel appearing for the Instagram handle to seek instructions with respect to the representation of the person before Court.

“If Defendant Number 1 (‘Herdsceneand’) is interested in providing the identity of the said person then it should either represent such person(s) or such person(s) should be impleaded..”, it said.

The Court also stated that accordingly, it would rule on the issue of maintenance of the anonymity of the victim(s) as well as holding the court proceedings in camera.

The Court today also heard the Culture Worker Support Trust and Indian Journalists Union on the point of their impleadment in the suit.

While the Culture Worker Support Trust has moved the Court under Order I Rule 8A, Indian Journalists Union has invoked Order I Rule 10.

Appearing for the Culture Worker Support Trust, Senior Advocate Jayna Kothari argued that the Trust sought to address issues of "due process" in cases of sexual harassment in the Art World.

In response, the Court remarked,

Can you say that you are representing the Art World? There are better remedies. If you want to do something, there are better provisions (of law). This is an inter-party issue.. This is a suit, not a PIL."
Justice Endlaw
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