Sexual Harassment Complainants to Challenge Defamation Case in Apex Court

Manik Katyal filed civil defamation suit against 36 people and intermediaries (including Facebook and Wordpress) who brought up allegations of sexual harassment against him in public forums.

Manik Katyal. Credit: Twitter

Manik Katyal. Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to Manik Katyal, photographer and editor of Emaho magazine, to explain why he wanted a civil defamation suit against 36 people and intermediaries (including Facebook and WordPress) who brought up allegations of sexual harassment against him in public forums.

Katyal had filed this case in Dehradun, labelled by the defendant’s lawyers as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The defendants, through lead advocate on the case Karuna Nandy, petitioned to have the case moved to Delhi. Nandy argued the case in the Supreme Court, which has now asked Katyal to appear before it.

This is not the first time someone accused of sexual harassment has used the law like this. In a move that was widely criticised by women’s rights organisations and activists, R.K. Pachauri, for instance, filed a civil lawsuit against lawyer Vrinda Grover for trying to bring the allegations against him to the fore – and for her efforts to get other women to come forward.

Through this SLAPP suit, the petitioners say, Katyal is seeking to “silence more than 20 young women professionals in photography and allied industries who have complained of sexual assault and/or harassment by him, as well as their supporters”.

Women from all over the world have complained against Katyal and his alleged repeated offences, from interns to editors and curators. The cases currently against Katyal include a criminal case for sexual assault under Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 354 and wrongful confinement under IPC section 340 pending in Kolkata’s Alipore court, a press release by the petitioners said. Women in photography and related professions from Delhi, Bombay, Seoul, Paris, Thailand, and Japan have also complained to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) and the National Commission for Women, asking that action be taken against Katyal, adding that he has not shown any inclinations to acknowledge responsibility and reform himself.

In the complainants’ legal notice, the petitioners’ press release continued, they have asked that Katyal attend at least 20 sessions with a female psychotherapist, be assigned 150 hours of community service with a women’s empowerment organisation and pay them their legal cost and reasonable damages. The DCW believes that criminal action should be taken against the accused.

Public complaints

The WordPress blog I was harassed by Manik Katyal includes both anonymous and identified women, talking about the explicit and implicit harassment they faced from him, both physical and verbal.

Within the photography community, conversations around the allegations against Katyal could be heard everywhere by the end of 2015. In November, Katyal was removed from his position as the co-director of Delhi’s Just Another Photo Festival. Around the same time, Katyal, in a move similar to others accused in cases of this kind, claimed on his Facebook page that his email and social media accounts had been hacked and were being misused, and he would consult with a lawyer on how to deal with this.

In response to open criticism, Emaho magazine announced that it had “pioneered the effort of being the first Indian online magazine to constitute an independent committee which is known as ‘Prevention of Sexual harassment and discrimination Committee’”. The hypocrisy of this act and the acclaim it got from those unfamiliar with the allegations against Katyal angered the complainants even more, leading to them openly naming him in their social media posts.

It was after these public accusation that Katyal filed his defamation suit, now to be heard in the Supreme Court.