The administrators of the Instagram account Scene and Herd (@herdsceneand), defendants in a lawsuit filed by Indian artist Subodh Gupta, have given their first statements in the Delhi High Court. Gupta sued the account for defamation last year after it posted accusations of sexual harassment against him. In court yesterday, the administrators defended their right to anonymity and described Scene and Herd’s role as a “whistleblower” that “provides a neutral platform for carrying and sharing incidents of sexual harassment,” according to the Art Newspaper.
In their statement, the defendants claimed that remaining anonymous would protect them against dangerous retaliation from the arts community. The presiding judge, Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, gave @herdsceneand the option of representing Gupta’s alleged victims in court to retain their anonymity, or revealing their names so they could be prosecuted individually.
Scene and Herd was created in 2018 with the objective of sparking a #MeToo movement in India’s art community by posting allegations of sexual harassment. An anonymous former employee was the first to share their experience with Gupta on the Instagram account, leading to protests during the Kochi Muziris Biennale against the biennial administration’s silence in the face of accusations against Gupta and other men in the Indian art world.
In September of last year, following a second allegation shared on Scene and Herd’s Instagram, Gupta moved forward with a civil defamation suit, seeking around Rs 5 crore (~$700,000) in damages and asking that the posts be taken down. Delhi High Court Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw mandated that Facebook — which owns Instagram — remove the posts in question and reveal the identity of the account’s administrator, prompting dozens of art workers to condemn the ruling as censorship. They called the court order “an outright move to silence the survivors and gag the platform that gave them a voice while protecting their identities.”
Facebook refused to comply, filing a motion to block the order, and the court granted the account’s administrators temporary anonymity. As reported by the Art Newspaper, the court ruled yesterday that whether @herdsceneand can retain their anonymity will be determined at a later date.
During the hearing, the Indian Journalists Union and the Culture Worker Support Trust filed motions to be heard as parties in the case, since the issues it raises pertain to public interest and touch upon questions of freedom of speech. According to the Art Newspaper, lawyer Ritin Rai from the Indian Journalists Union said it was the “qualified privilege” of journalists to report on the court’s order to take down URLs and search engine results related to the allegations against Gupta. In his statement, Rai said the order violated the freedom of speech rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
“You don’t have a special right to report things which are held to be non-reportable,” retorted the court, per an article in the Indian publication LiveLaw. “You have a right to report only when the reporting is permitted. You’re supposed to report news, not make news. You can also choose to write academic pieces, why do you want to report on a matter that has been injuncted by the court? You just want to create a scandal, grab eyeballs.”
The next hearing is scheduled to take place on February 4.