The #MeToo movement in India has fizzled out and most of the alleged abusers have been given a clean chit and rehabilitated. The tide has now turned against the women who used social media platforms to share their stories.
Subodh Gupta, a popular Indian artist has sued an anonymous Instagram handle ‘herdsceneand’ for defamation.
The Delhi High Court has now ordered Facebook, which owns Instagram to disclose the identity of the account.
This decision could set a dangerous precedent and put the privacy of 2.4 billion people at risk.
History Of The Case
‘Scene and Herd’ aims to reveal the truth of what goes on in the Indian Art Industry. The account has over 5k followers and has published nearly 70 testimonials. The account’s owner is a survivor too.
According to Buzzfeed News’ anonymous source, for a long time people just warned each other about certain places and people through a whisper network, but the #MeToo movement made people realize that just the tightly knit Delhi circle knowing about this is not enough and hence the account was created for women to get the weight off their chests. The allegation against the artist came out on 13 December 2018.
Subodh Gupta’s Reaction
Gupta has filed a defamation lawsuit seeking 5 crores in damages against the Instagram handle through advocate Neoma Vasdev. He has claimed that his reputation and livelihood has been threatened due to the “unfounded, baseless sexual allegations published.”
Reasoning Of The Court
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw has ordered Facebook to unmask the identity of the testimonial account in a sealed envelope at the next hearing (November 19) and to remove the defamatory posts against Mr. Gupta.
According to HC, this was done because none of the victims has identified herself or filed a case and defamatory content cannot be published on public domains without the support of legal recourse.
The Indian government has long desired to regulate the internet for “public good” and this decision could open the door for them to do so.
This raises the issue of how big tech companies deploy their data once again.
The companies regularly gather data about their customers and this data if disclosed has the potential to harm the customers who trusted these platforms.
Twitter referenced #MeTooIndia in July 2019, the social media giants portray themselves as advocates of free speech and how they provide people a means to fight against the oppressive regimes.
An Instagram executive had assured the ‘herdsceneand’ account via email in 2018 that they have changed their cyberbullying policies to help accounts that named the abusers.
Reaction To The Decision
A lawyer with Internet Freedom Foundation said: “Anonymity is the real way whistleblowers, political dissidents, people who have experienced systemic harassment and abuse make their voice heard in societies which do not share their values.”
Others have a different opinion and believe that if you post something on the internet you should be ready to deal with the repercussions.
Why Is Anonymity Important?
The women chose anonymity because otherwise their jobs, careers and even life would be put at risk. I still recall the victim in the Asaram Bapu case who stated that she was threatened and followed numerous times and she couldn’t even go to school.
The women’s entire life is dissected and every attempt is made to assassinate her character. This is what led to the US law that bars the usage of a victim’s sexual history to be used in rape cases.
When such allegations come out against the powerful, wealthy men simply go into hibernation and come back when the wind has died out.
Attempt To Dissuade others?
In the USA, the #MeToo movement made sexual harassers face consequences for their actions. Yet, it has failed in our country. The victims have become the villains and the alleged abusers are seen through a sympathetic lens. This reversal of roles has further distressed the victims who don’t wish to suffer anymore, after the traumatic experience they were made to undergo. As a result, the victims continue to keep quiet.
A statement signed by 38 women journalists and artists says “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.”
Why Speaking Out Is Necessary?
Sexual harassment suits are difficult to prove, the lack of physical evidence makes it impossible to win on a legal front. Furthermore, most of the victims don’t have the financial strength to pay the hefty legal fees.
There are also cases where the women just want to make the person aware of his wrongdoing and how he might have unknowingly made them uncomfortable. Such was the case with Dan Harmon, the showrunner of Community who apologized and was forgiven by the woman.
The objective of the movement was to create a safe environment for women, to make them believe that people are seeing and hearing them; to assure that their stories won’t be discarded as acts of vindictiveness. Sadly, that is what has happened in India.
The general population believes that #MeToo is just a witch-hunt.
I agree that some women use false allegations for revenge, but they are very few in comparison to the number of rape cases witnessed in India every year. If multiple women have accused a person and their stories don’t have holes in its narrative, then the least we could do is give them the courtesy of listening.
Do you agree with the Court’s order?
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