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Statement Condemning the Alarming Silencing of Sexual Harassment Survivors (New Delhi, India)

October 4, 2019

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 insolidaritywith.survivors@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

______________________________________________________________________

We are reaching out to you today as an institution that represents the Indian contemporary artist Mr. Subodh Gupta, deals in his artwork, collects his artwork, or otherwise has a stake in his practice, for your support and solidarity in this fight against sexual harassment.

In December 2018, the Instagram account @herdsceneand published seven anonymous accounts alleging sexual harassment and misconduct by Mr. Subodh Gupta. On 18 September 2019, Mr. Gupta filed a defamation suit against @herdsceneand in the Delhi High Court, demanding 5 crore rupees (~$700,000) in “token” damages. The Delhi High Court on 30 September 2019 directed that the posts referring to Mr. Gupta on @herdsceneand be taken down and directed Instagram to provide details of the “person/entity” running the Instagram handle to the court in a sealed envelope.

The allegations against Mr. Gupta have not, as yet, been tested in a court of law. As we know, sexual harassment is one of the most difficult charges to prove in court. The burden of proof is always placed on the survivor. Often survivors choose not to seek legal redress, and choose anonymity, fearing public stigma, career loss, financial burden and other forms of intimidation and retaliation such as this defamation case in itself, especially when the accused are in positions of power, like Mr. Gupta is.

The need therefore, for alternative redressal mechanisms, is urgent. And the need for institutions such as yours, and the larger arts community to show solidarity towards addressing sexual harassment, to shift our understanding of this as a collective problem and not just a problem between the perpetrator and survivor, is critical.

We appeal to you today to make the interventions that are in your power to be made. Although Mr. Gupta has the legal right to defend himself, the survivors who have shared their experiences also have a right to be heard.

We therefore ask that you initiate a fair and independent inquiry of these allegations against Mr. Gupta. We ask that you center the painful experiences of survivors in this process, taking into full consideration the challenges they face, and making every effort possible to establish a safe environment for survivors to come forward. We ask that your investigation honor the need to safeguard their identities against public stigma and other forms of retaliation. We ask that you seek every possible alternative to establish proof, without assigning that burden solely on the survivors themselves, but also seeking ways to corroborate accounts through witness and bystander testimonies, among other means. We ask that you honor the need for healing, and look into transformative and restorative actions for the survivors, as well as the perpetrator.

Without any attempt to investigate and establish the truth, this defamation suit against @herdsceneand which Mr. Gupta has filed, is an outright move to silence survivors and the platform that gave them a voice. This is a direct attempt to dissuade survivors from sharing their experiences of harassment and violence. This has already set a dangerous precedence, legal and otherwise, and will continue to perpetuate a culture of fear and impunity.

We write to you today to note our protest of these actions by Mr. Gupta, and to inquire re. the following;

  1. Are you aware of the allegations made against Mr. Subodh Gupta, an artist whom you represent, on 13th December 2018 and then again on 20th January 2019 on @herdsceneand?
  2. Do you have policies and preventive or redressal mechanisms that address sexual harassment within your institution? Do they apply to the artists you represent and work with, regardless of whether or not it is legally required? Are they included in artist and other contracts? If so, is this information accessible to the public? Would you be willing to share them with the public, and other institutions as a model and resource
  3. Have you had internal discussions pertaining to these allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Subodh Gupta?
  4. Have you pursued an enquiry on the basis of the allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Subodh Gupta? If you have, what have been the results of these enquiries been? We request that you kindly make your proceedings and findings public. If no enquiry has been made, why not?
  5. Are you aware that Mr. Gupta is misusing his position of power to intimidate, discredit and silence the survivors who have spoken up against him, and the platform that gave them a voice? What is your institutional position on this?

We attach to this communication, three independent statements that have been issued by different arts and media communities, endorsed by hundreds of signatories who represent the Indian and associated art world, who are all gravely concerned by this case. This is a public call for accountability that is growing in strength and which we hope will lead towards positive action.

We are at your disposal for any further discussions and pledge our collective support towards any institutional proceedings you may wish to initiate.

Sincerely,

In Solidarity with Survivors – an independent group of allies

 

_____________________

Reference links:

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/anonymity-tool-india-metoo-movement-191014112350666.html

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nishitajha/instagram-me-too-scene-and-herd

https://scroll.in/latest/939264/metoo-artist-subodh-guptas-defamation-suit-is-an-attempt-to-silence-survivors-say-activists

https://thewire.in/women/subodh-gupta-metoo-defamation-suit-instagram

https://hyperallergic.com/520266/subodh-gupta-sexual-harassment-allegations/

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