Police in Powai, a neighbourhood in northeast Mumbai, have arrested a 27-year-old man named Utkarsh Mehta, whose IP (internet protocol) address was reportedly a match for the source of social-media posts and emails that named Sudarshan Banerjee, founder of the ad agency Utopeia Communicationz, in sexual harassment claims.
According to the newspaper DNA India, Mehta said during the investigation that he created fake accounts under the names of his friends, women who were former colleagues of Banerjee and who said they had been sexually harassed by him. He is being held for conspiracy, forgery, forgery for purpose of harming reputation, and using an electronic document for forgery and defamation.
The claims against Banerjee emerged in October 2018 as part of India's #MeToo movement, which surged forward last year and spilt over into adland. Claims were shared on Twitter and Medium and detailed various instances of harassment. One post (see screenshot below), was uploaded under the name Kamakshi Thareja, the name of an employee who had worked with Banerjee at Mudra Communications, his place of employment before Utopeia.
Separately, in addition to these posts, Campaign Asia-Pacific received emails that appeared to be from two former colleagues of Banerjee outlining further instances of harassment.
Banerjee, who is a co-founder and managing partner at Utopeia, strongly denied the social media claims in a statement from his lawyers, shared on Twitter at the time. It stated that Banerjee believed all four posts were shared as part of a "criminal conspiracy" to "tarnish the goodwill and reputation of [Banerjee] and Utopeia for ulterior gains" and said that he had initiated legal proceedings against the "conspirators".
On March 6, the Andheri Magistrate Court instructed police in Powai to register a First Information Report (FIR) on behalf of Banerjee. This is a document lodged by the victim of a "cognizable offense", which is defined by the Human Rights Initiative as "one in which the police may arrest a person without warrant."
This led to the tracking of Mehta's IP address and his arrest, according to a statement published on DNA by Anil Pophale, a senior inspector at Powai Police.
Banerjee's lawyer, Anirban Roy, was quoted by DNA as saying: "The act of defamation on social media has cost my client huge business losses. Since no major company wanted to be associated with a someone who was embroiled in the #MeToo movement, my client lost business of over Rs 7 crore [about US$1 million] and more than 40 employees resigned from the company. These allegations were made in bad taste and if the said women had any problems with my client, they were at liberty to approach police or post their ordeals on social media from their own accounts. In this case, Mehta had made two out of four fake accounts and was nowhere related to Utopia Communications."
Utopeia has experienced major staff issues since these claims emerged, Campaign understands. Two other managing partners, Mitali Srivastava Hough and Sean Colaco, left the agency in November and staff numbers are said to have dropped from 50 to three.