No Escape for Mahesh Murthy, the VC Who Went to Court to Stop Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Him

Social Commentary

No Escape for Mahesh Murthy, the VC Who Went to Court to Stop Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Him

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Three years after it asked a number of publications to stop reporting sexual harassment allegations against Mahesh Murthy, the Delhi High Court has now reversed its order.

Hearing a defamation case filed by the venture capitalist against both his accusers and the publications who carried their stories, the court observed on Wednesday that the defendants had the “right to exercise their right of freedom of speech.”

The Delhi High Court also dismissed Murthy’s contentions that two of the complainants were disgruntled and had mala fide intentions when making their complaints.

“Prima facie, it cannot be said that the said defendants have no case whatsoever or are misusing the freedom of speech to tarnish/defame the plaintiff,” Justice Jayant Nath observed, in a win for both freedom of speech and the #MeToo movement.

One of the women, an independent journalist, who first raised the allegations against Murthy, took to Twitter after the ruling to announce that “money can’t suppress the truth”.

The allegations against Murthy date back to 2017, when at least three publications had published reports highlighting the numerous complaints against the venture capitalist.

Back then, two of the accusers had shared screenshots of their conversations with Murthy, in which he supposedly makes unwarranted comments.

Two other complainants had said that the venture capitalist had touched them inappropriately during separate business meetings in 2003 and 2004.

In response Murthy had filed a defamation case against 18 defendants and had demanded Rs 2.5 crore as compensation for the posts and comments. Among these defendants were a few journalists who wrote about the allegations against him.

The newspapers said, according to reports, that they merely reported what was already in the public domain, and that Murthy had denied their requests for comment.

One of the journalists named in Murthy’s case took to Twitter on Wednesday to say the ruling was a small victory for the women who raised the allegations.

When the matter was first presented to the HC in March and April 2017, the court had ordered the defendants to stop publishing articles, or commenting on the allegations made by the complainants.

However, while finally lifting the gag order during Wednesday’s hearing, the High Court bench noted instead that there “appears to be no reason to conclude that the said defendants have acted in a mala fide manner.”

It’s been nearly three years since the #MeToo movement first shook up Indian timelines, but justice in many cases has yet to be delivered. Hopefully Wednesday’s ruling will go some way in ensuring that the accused are finally held accountable.