The underbelly of the #MeToo movement in Indian advertising is being exposed as the Mumbai police arrested Utkarsh Mehta (27), a paid social media specialist, on April 7.
Mehta has been booked under relevant sections of the IPC for conspiracy (section 120B), forgery (section 465), forgery for purpose of harming reputation (section 469), using an electronic document for forgery (section 471) and defamation (section 500), along with relevant sections of the IT Act.
The man's IP address was used to create three Gmail and one Twitter account which posted charges against Sudarshan Banerjee, co-founder and managing partner of Utopeia Communicationz.
Since October 2018, the agency has been embroiled in staff issues centering around allegations of sexual harassment against Banerjee. Managing partners including Mitali Srivastava Hough and Sean Colaco had left the agency in November. The agency is said to have only three people working for it currently. The headcount was at 50 when allegations started to surface in October 2018.
The sequence of events are given below:
• It all started at the peak of the #MeToo Movement around Sept-October 2018.
• On October 10, an anonymous post appeared in Medium.com describing an alleged sexual harassment by Sudarshan Banerjee – the chairman and MD of Utopeia Communications a seven-year-old advertising firm
• Within a span of few days between the 9th-12th of October 2018 four posts appeared on Medium.com
• As the #MeToo movement was at its peak, these posts went viral – and all of these stories were being shared across social media–twitter, Facebook and other platforms including digital news spaces all of them quoting twitter comments as well as these online stories
• The company immediately put out a public notice requesting any of the complainants to also directly approach it for an appropriate enquiry. Reportedly, none of the women turned up with any complaints
• In late-October a complaint was filed with the Powai police station with the sequence of events aimed at a larger conspiracy to malign the name and reputation of Sudarshan Banerjee and Utopeia Communicationz.
• In February, an application was filed under section 156 (3) before the magistrate court in Andheri that this is a cognizable offence of forging documents as these are not posts written by the alleged victims but have been written by someone posing as a victim.
• On March 6 an order was obtained from Andheri magistrate court
• Google shared the information of the two anonymous accounts as well as the details of the mobile numbers used to verify/open these accounts
• These numbers were then traced back to an individual Utkarsh Mehta who was arrested by the police
• He admitted to the police of being behind all of the above and his defence was that two of his friends had suffered sexual harassment and therefore he stepped-in to take these steps as a social cause by him
According to Utopeia's lawyer, Anirban Roy, "The fact remains that the posts and the media stories which appeared were on the basis of these posts were created by an individual who was not a victim, but a profession ‘paid’ social media content digital guy."
The result has been catastrophic for the agency.
Clients of the agency started taking note of the situation and began withdrawing their accounts from Utopeia Communicationz citing reputational and brand reasons
What eventually happened is that a company with a turnover of over Rs 8 crore+ turns into an agency with a turnover of less than 1 crore and from a 50 employee organisation, the place has been reduced to a mere 3-4 employees. "Just not the reputation of an individual, but also the organisation reputation itself has been tainted," says the lawyer.