The Delhi High Court has asked Facebook and Google to reveal the identity of the person behind the handle @herdsceneand on Instagram who has accused artist Subodh Gupta of sexual harassment. Gupta had filed a defamation suit saying his reputation has been destroyed and his right to livelihood jeopardised by this anonymous handle on social media.
Seeking Rs 5 crore in damages Gupta’s plea (briefly) states, “The defamatory posts refer to unnamed individuals’ veiled allegations without showing proof, thereby breaching all relevant provisions of law.” Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw issued the directive to the tech companies after he discovered none of the alleged victims had been identified, nor was there any case filed against Gupta in court.
It must be acknowledged that for an anonymous handle @herdsceneand on Instagram has certainly had a staggering impact. Last year Gaurav Bhatia, Managing Director of auction house Sotheby’s India resigned after allegations of sexual harassment by four people, based on information provided by @herdsceneand. An inquiry was instituted against Riyas Komu, a co-founder of the Kochi Biennale who resigned from all management positions after similar allegations, again, broken first on @herdsceneand (the Internal Complaints Committee recommended dropping the inquiry in March since no complaint was forthcoming after pursuing the matter for several weeks). Neither Bhatia or Komu appear to have pursued the matter in court. Similarly, the accusations leveled by this handle against Gupta are extremely serious and meticulously detailed.
By asking Facebook to name the entity behind @herdsceneand the High Court has acknowledged the unfairness of how easy it is for someone to cast aspersions in the public domain, without having to face any questions or legal consequences themselves.
No matter how terrible the problem of sexual harassment in India and the problem is wretched beyond imagination — across fields there is an endless stream of entitled men desperately scouting for action — but how did we reach a place where an anonymous accuser’s online slander is taken as the unchallenged truth? Surely, individuals hurling accusations while hiding behind their computers may have their own ulterior motives, especially one who is a well-entrenched insider like @herdsceneand clearly is. Having said that, it is important to remember, globally, less than two per cent of sexual harassment allegations turn out to be false. Believe all women resonates deeply indeed, yet, giving in to the court of public opinion is a dangerous trend that needs to be checked. Going through the 70-plus posts of @herdsceneand I couldn’t help but notice many sound laughably
mawkish couched within fancy new-age terminology like ‘power dynamic’ and ‘gaslighting’.
In one post, the alleged victim writes about a consensual relationship that she wanted out of, but the perpetrator refused to exit (we’ve all been there). Among the choicest words this person has used to describe this galling man is, ‘psychologically abusive’ and also that he kept ‘mansplaining’. Like all women, having suffered a large number of mansplainers myself I sympathise entirely, but it bears pointing out, being a bore is not a crime. (One could argue though, it should be).
Whining about men loving the sound of their own voices dilutes the #metoo movement which is really about equal opportunity and women’s safety at work. All said and done @herdsceneand has played an important role in drawing attention to the murky situations women working in art have to face. Now that the protection of invisibility is gone, it’s anybody’s guess whether these exposes will continue.