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Mar 03 2020

Subodh Gupta Settles Defamation Case Over Instagram #MeToo Allegations

by Ophelia Lai

SUBODH GUPTA has settled his defamation suit with the anonymous Instagram account Scene and Herd. The artist is pictured here in his Gurgaon studio in January, 2014. Photo by John Jervis for ArtAsiaPacific.

Following months of legal wrangling over questions of online anonymity and freedom of speech, artist Subodh Gupta settled his defamation suit with the anonymous Instagram account Scene and Herd, which had posted accusations of his sexual misconduct between December 2018 and January 2019.

As reported by the Times of India on February 12, the New Delhi High Court ruled the civil suit in favor of Gupta after being notified by the proprietor of @herdsceneand that a settlement had been reached with the plaintiff. Scene and Herd apologized for and removed the allegedly defamatory Instagram posts; in exchange, Gupta dropped the rest of his demands.

The artist had initially sought an injunction and damages of INR 50 million (USD 692,000) when he filed suit on September 18, 2019. The Court approved an ex-parte ad-interim injunction against Scene and Herd that same day, and ordered Google to wipe the URLs of the offending posts from its search engine, as well as Instagram owner Facebook, Inc. to reveal the identity of @herdsceneand’s proprietor. On October 14, Google asked the Court to revoke its order, citing concerns that complying would have a “chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression and be against public interest.” Meanwhile, Facebook agreed to delete the posts for Instagram users in India (they remained visible outside of the country), but in November requested that the Court modify its order to disclose the accountholder’s identity, as doing so would “[dissuade] not only sexual harassment victims from sharing their experiences in the future, but also whistle-blowers from reporting such unlawful acts.”

Throughout the proceedings, the court allowed Scene and Herd to file submissions anonymously, and the abrupt settlement has brought an end to further mandates that would reveal the accountholder’s identity. Scene and Herd’s advocate Abhik Chimni told Indian news site The Print, “This is important because in future cases or in sensitive cases like this one, it might allow people to come forward.”

Gupta’s case drew consternation from members of India’s art industry and from the general public. In a public statement on the suit, Khoj International Artists Association—which expelled Gupta shortly after the sexual misconduct allegations first surfaced—said it was “disturbed by certain actions which undeniably have the effect of discrediting and suppressing conversation around sexual harassment in the art world.” A week later, an “independent group of allies” circulated a letter characterizing the suit as a “move to silence survivors and the platform that gave them a voice.”

Herd and Scene has published accounts of sexual misconduct, most of them anonymously, since October 2018 as part of the global #MeToo movement. Among the major figures named in these allegations, including artist Jatin Das, sculptor Valsan Koorma Kolleri, Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founder Riyas Komu, and former managing director of Sotheby’s India Gaurav Bhatia, Gupta was the first to take legal action against the Instagram account.

Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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