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MeToo: Delhi HC asks anonymous account if it will represent victims

In its interim order, the court had allowed @herdsceneand anonymity in the Rs 5-crore defamation suit filed by Gupta against it and others, seeking removal of allegedly defamatory content against him on social media platforms.

Written by Pritam Pal Singh | New Delhi | Updated: January 23, 2020 7:24:49 am
Subodh Gupta, MeToo, MeToo campaign, Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, free speech, Indian Express The Delhi High Court (File Photo)

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked an anonymous Instagram account holder, who had posted anonymous posts accusing artist Subodh Gupta of alleged sexual harassment, whether she/he is willing to represent other victims of sexual harassment who had come out with their complaints as part of the ‘Me Too’ movement, or whether the court should implead them as a party to the suit.

The counsel for the user of Instagram account @herdsceneand on Wednesday told the court that the account’s user was only a “whistleblower” and intends to bring out instances of sexual misconduct and harassment in the art fraternity.

At this, Justice R S Endlaw said, “If defendant Number 1 (user) is interested in providing identity of the said person then it should either represent such person(s) or such person(s) should be impleaded as a party to the suit.”

“Ghost is creating a super-ghost,” the judge said.

“Why would you be interested in protecting the identity [of the complainant against Gupta]? Question is about the identity of that person,” the court said, and listed the matter for further hearing on February 4.

In its interim order, the court had allowed @herdsceneand anonymity in the Rs 5-crore defamation suit filed by Gupta against it and others, seeking removal of allegedly defamatory content against him on social media platforms.

The counsel for @herdsceneand contended that disclosing identity of people behind the account is likely to harm them.

In its written submission before the court, the account user stated that in absence of an internal committee to deal with such instances, other victims of sexual harassment wrote to it (@herdsceneand) about their personal experiences. The victims knew that anonymity would protect them from retaliation from influential members of the art fraternity, it submitted.

It informed the court that the account @herdsceneand was created on October 8, 2018, to “bring to forefront cases of sexual misconduct and harassment stemming from wrongful exercise of power by persons having position and influence in the profession”.

The HC had earlier restrained the user from posting on its account any content pertaining to Gupta, and directed @herdsceneand, Instagram, Facebook, Google, etc, to “forthwith” take down alleged defamatory posts/articles/content pertaining to Gupta, and block 18 URLs.

Meanwhile, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) moved an application in the suit and sought to “vacate/set aside/modify” the court’s September 18 order that directed removal and blocking of URLs.

Appearing for IJU, senior advocate Ritin Raithe argued that IJU “deeply believes that the right of freedom of press, which includes freedom to report grave allegations of sexual harassment in a fair and responsible manner after following ethical reporting standards, is severely affected and impeded by the reliefs sought in the present suit”.

Culture Workers Support Trust has also sought to be heard in the matter.

Senior advocates Sandeep Sethi and Kailash Vasdev, appearing for Gupta, opposed the impleadment applications and said there is no question of public interest involved in it.

Justice Endlaw had earlier allowed @herdsceneand to submit the vakalatnama (document authorising a lawyer to appear and plead on a client’s behalf) and the written statements in a sealed cover.

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