By Amala Dasarathi
This Monday, the Supreme Court issued a notice to Manik Katyal, photographer and editor of Emaho magazine, asking him to explain why he decided to file a defamation lawsuit against 36 women who openly spoke about being sexually harassed by him on social media.
Several women across countries, organisations and professions have complained of being sexually harassed by Katyal, online and offline. Katyal has cases of Section 354 (sexual assault) and Section 340 (wrongful confinement) under the IPC against him currently.
In 2015, a blog titled I Was Harassed by Manik Katyal began to publish accounts of women who had been sexually harassed by Katyal. Many of the comments on posts in the blog, too, are from women who have been harassed by him. As everyone in the photography community began talking about this, Katyal posted on Facebook saying that his social media accounts had been ‘compromised’ and were being misused, claiming that he wasn’t actually behind all the vulgar, creepy messages he had sent to women on social media. Soon, women began naming Katyal openly on social media posts when describing how he had harassed them. These posts too are filled with comments from more women who have been harassed by Katyal. One wrote, “This is something that has happened to almost all the ‘interns’ at Emaho.” Katyal’s defamation suit followed in retaliation to all of this.
Katyal’s lawsuit has been labelled a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) by its defendants. Such lawsuits are filed with the purpose of censoring, intimidating, and silencing the opposing party by burdening with them with the costs and hassles of litigation. Katyal even filed his case nearly 300 km away from Delhi, in Dehradun. They are lawsuits primarily filed not to be won, but to intimidate. Even RK Pachauri, the former chief of TERI sued advocate Vrinda Grover for making public, on the request of her clients, statements made by them about being sexually harassed by Pachauri, after police failed to record them. Pachauri has now been granted bail by a Maharashtra court under lenient conditions, such as a bail bond worth only Rs 50,000 and permission to travel abroad.
Women in photography and allied professions from India and other places, like Seoul, Paris, Thailand and Japan have complained to the Delhi Commission for Women and National Commission for Women, asking for action to be taken against Katyal as he has not reformed or shown remorse following the allegations against him. They have asked that Katyal should mandatorily have at least 20 hours of counselling with a female psychotherapist and 150 hours of community service with a women’s empowerment organisation, in addition to paying the complainants damages.