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Art Workers Condemn Ruling Censoring Sexual Assault Allegations Against Subodh Gupta

Dozens call the court order to remove the allegations from Instagram “an outright move to silence the survivors and gag the platform that gave them a voice while protecting their identities.”

In December of 2018, a group of protesters interrupted a Guerilla Girls performance at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale to read a statement addressing sexual misconduct allegations in the Indian art community. (photo by Dorian Batycka for Hyperallergic)

Last year, Scene and Herd launched on Instagram with hopes of sparking a #MeToo movement in India’s art community by publishing anonymous allegations of sexual harassment. On September 30, Delhi High Court Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw ordered that Facebook — which owns Instagram — reveal the identity of the account’s administrator in response to a civil defamation lawsuit launched by Subodh Gupta, a contemporary artist and curator who was anonymously accused of misconduct on the platform. The high court also mandated that within 48 hours, Facebook take down the Instagram posts accusing Gupta of sexual harassment and Google remove the accusations from its search engine listings.

Today, dozens of artists and arts workers condemned the court’s unprecedented ruling, circulating a statement calling the lawsuit “an outright move to silence the survivors and gag the platform that gave them a voice while protecting their identities.”

The group asserts that the court’s ruling on the defamation lawsuit “is exactly what survivors have feared when choosing anonymity. This is an attempt to dissuade others from sharing further experiences of harassment and violence, and to perpetuate a culture of fear.”

“The survivors who have shared their painful accounts with great courage MUST be protected,” they continue. “Intimidation and attempts to discredit and silence their voices MUST be strongly condemned.”

They ask for supporters to archive the posts detailing the allegations and to pass along advice or information regarding the case.

Read their statement, in full, below:

Indian artist Subodh Gupta filed a civil defamation suit on 18 September 2019 against the Instagram handle @herdsceneand for allegedly “publishing false, malicious and defamatory content”. Mr. Gupta is seeking ‘token’ damages of Rs. 5 crore (Rs. 50 million). The Delhi High Court on 30 September 2019 directed that the posts referring to Mr. Gupta on @herdsceneand be taken down. Additionally, the Court directed Google to take down from its search results a list of URLs that report on the sexual harassment allegations against Subodh Gupta, and directed Instagram to provide details of the “person/entity” running the Instagram handle to the Court in a sealed cover.

Given the complex personal and professional terrains that have to be navigated in the arts and cultural sector, those who speak out against sexual harassment choose to remain anonymous due to public stigma, intimidation, fear of losing work and other forms of structural violence.

@herdsceneand is an important platform that gives voice to survivors whose accounts of sexual harassment and abuse of power have been systematically silenced in the past. The platform creates an environment of collectivity and solidarity in an otherwise hostile context. The urgent attention the platform has brought to the prevalence and normalisation of sexual harassment and abuse of power has put pressure on art institutions to revisit and strengthen their policies and mechanisms to work towards safer spaces and more equitable work environments. These are beginnings for a lot of hard work that needs to be done yet.

This defamation suit against @herdsceneand is an outright move to silence the survivors and gag the platform that gave them a voice while protecting their identities. This is exactly what survivors have feared when choosing anonymity. This is an attempt to dissuade others from sharing further experiences of harassment and violence, and to perpetuate a culture of fear.

The survivors who have shared their painful accounts with great courage MUST be protected. Intimidation and attempts to discredit and silence their voices MUST be strongly condemned.

We ask you to condemn this defamation suit and show solidarity towards the survivors by:

– sharing news and other coverage of this case widely on social media to register protest against this attempt to silence

– archiving / documenting the posts that have been ordered to be removed by Instagram as a way to keep a record of the survivors statements

– writing to us with any information, advice, ideas for support relating to this case and/or other cases of sexual harassment. Please write to [email protected]gmail.com

In solidarity,

1. Aarthi Parthasarthy/ Kadak Collective

2. Akansha Rastogi, New Delhi

3. Akhila Krishnan and Mira Malhotra, Kadak Collective, London/ Mumbai

4. Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Providence/ Bangalore

5. Anushka Rajendran, New Delhi

6. Diwas Raja Kc, Kathmandu

7. Fiza Khatri, Karachi

8. Gopika Bashi, Bangalore

9. Jaishri Abichandani, New York

10. Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore

11. Maraa – A Media and Arts Collective, Bangalore

12. Mila Samdub, New Delhi

13. Munem Wasif, Dhaka

14. Naeem Mohaiemen, Dhaka

15. Natasha Malik, Islamabad

16. NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, Kathmandu

17. Neha Dixit, New Delhi

18. Nishant Shah, Arnhem

19. Padmini Ray Murray, Bangalore

20. Pallavi Paul, New Delhi

21. Phalguni Desai, Mumbai

22. Priyadarshini Ohol, Mumbai

23. Rachita Taneja, Bangalore

24. Radha Mahendu, New Delhi

25. Raksha Kumar, Bangalore

26. Rattanamol Johal, New York

27. Rituparna Chatterjee, New Delhi

28. Sahej Rahal, Mumbai

29. Sandhya Menon, Bangalore

30. Sharareh Bajracharya, Kathmandu

31. Sitara Chowfla, New Delhi

32. Skye Arundhati Thomas, Mumbai

33. Sohrab Hura, New Delhi

34. Sumona Chakravarty, Kolkata

35. Tanvi Mishra, New Delhi

36. Vidisha-Fadescha, New Delhi

37. Vidyun Sabhaney, New Delhi/ Goa

38. Zarina Muhammad & Gabrielle de la Puente, White Pube, London/Liverpool

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