Can sexual harassment cases be pursued by “proxy”? asks HC

Bombay High Court
Can sexual harassment cases be pursued by "proxy"? asks HC

The Bombay High Court Tuesday sought to know if sexual harassment cases can be pursued by “proxy” when the victim says she does not wish to continue with the case.

The query was posed by Justice Shahrukh Kathawalla while hearing an application filed by film director Vikas Bahl, facing accusations of sexual harassment.

In the plea, Bahl has sought the high court direction to his former partners and directors Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena to refrain from speaking to the media or posting on social media anything about the case in which a female employee of their erstwhile production house has alleged she was sexually harassed by Bahl in 2015.

The accuser Tuesday submitted a statement in the court, saying she does not wish to pursue the case against Bahl, but stands by her allegations against him.

Bahl has also filed a defamation suit against the trio and sought Rs 10 crore in damages from them for “ruining” his reputation.

The woman’s counsel, Navroz Servai, submitted her statement, saying she stands by her allegations against Bahl, but wants to “forget about the same and walk away from all of this”.

“Although, presently the woman does not intend to pursue the allegations by lodging a complaint, but if she wants to do so in future then this statement submitted today cannot be used against her,” Servai told the court.

The court then questioned if in such a situation others can continue talking about the alleged incident, which came to light during the #MeToo movement.

“The woman is saying she wants to forget. Should we not respect her wishes then?. Why should others like the defendants (Kashyap, Motwane and Mantena) keep talking about it?” Justice Kathawalla asked.

To this, Servai said the woman does not mind if others talk about the issue.

Expressing displeasure at this, Justice Kathawalla said, “The woman does not want to do anything, but wants others to do it. Can such cases be pursued by a proxy?”

Kashyap and Motwane Tuesday filed their affidavits in response to Bahl’s application in which they said Bahl was infamous for such behaviour among several female employees of their former production house Phantom Films.

“Several actors like Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan have spoken about Bahl’s inappropriate behaviour,” Kashyap and Motwane’s counsel Venkatesh Dhond argued.

He said while the victim had told Kashyap about the 2015 incident where she was allegedly sexually harassed by Bahl, who had also confessed about the same to Kashyap.

“Kashyap and Mantena met Bahl where Bahl confessed to the incident, cried and assured that he would apologise to the girl and get the issue sorted,” Dhond said.

Bahl has a drinking problem and does not know how to behave when he gets drunk, Dhond said, adding the director had assured Kashyap and Motwane to undergo therapy for the same.

Senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas, appearing for Bahl, argued that when the woman has decided not to pursue the case, no one should be allowed to make wild allegations just to settle personal scores.

He said Bahl is now placed in such a position where in the absence of a formal complaint, he will never be able to prove that the allegations levelled against him are false and malicious.

“Why should the court not draw an adverse inference [against the victim], my reputation has been tarnished for a victim who doesn’t want to take the legal recourse,” Dwarkadas said.

The court sought to know from Mantena’s lawyers Vineet Naik and Sameer Tapia if the submission made by Kashyap in his affidavit – that Bahl had confessed about the incident in front of Kashyap and Mantena – was true.

Naik said he would find out and file an affidavit. The court has now posted the matter for further hearing on October 25.

Bahl, who directed Bollywood’s blockbuster “Queen” – starring Kangana Ranaut in the lead – has claimed Kashyap and Motwane orchestrated the whole campaign against him.

Phantom Films was established in 2011 by Kashyap, Motwane, Bahl and producer Madhu Mantena.

The companys productions included “Lootera”, “Hasee Toh Phasee”, “Queen” and “Bombay Velvet”.

Soon after Bahl was named in the #MeToo campaign, Kashyap and Motwane dissolved Phantom Films.

An unidentified female employee of the production company alleged Bahl sexually assaulted her in Goa during a promotional tour of ‘Bombay Velvet’. PTI