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I Have Right to Ask Defamatory Meme to Be Removed: Gurmehar Kaur

Was Gurmeher Kaur in the wrong to report defamatory memes to the police?

Updated
Web Culture
4 min read


“It is well within my constitutional right to question someone misusing my picture to defame me in public,” says Gurmehar Kaur. 

“It is well within my constitutional right to question someone misusing my picture to defame me in public. Those pointing fingers at me can contest me in a court of law, if they think I am in the wrong.”

This was Gurmehar Kaur’s response to those who accused her of ‘threatening teens’ with jail time.

For those who came late to the party, here’s what the student activist was responding to.

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What We Know So Far

A Facebook page named ‘Squint Neon’ put out memes using pictures of Gurmehar Kaur and several other women, who are vocal about their feminist views. One of the memes called the women ‘sh*t’, while another posted negative remarks about them.

The defamatory memes posted by the Facebook page, Squint Neon.
The defamatory memes posted by the Facebook page, Squint Neon.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Squint Neon)

Kaur took offence to the memes and objected to her pictures being misused. She reached out to the admins of the page via Facebook messenger and asked them to take down the memes in question. She also warned them that she would move the cyber police if her pictures weren’t taken down.

In fact, she said just these words:

Gurmehar’s message to Squint Neon’s admin.
Gurmehar’s message to Squint Neon’s admin.
Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Jon Yadav


Gurmehar’s message to Squint Neon’s admin.
Gurmehar’s message to Squint Neon’s admin.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Jon Yadav)

What happened next? She was accused for ‘going against freedom of speech.’ In fact, a popular digital publication even declared that she was ‘threatening teens.’

Screengrab of the article on Gurmehar Kaur.
Screengrab of the article on Gurmehar Kaur.
(Photo Courtesy: ScoopWhoop)

We reached out to Kaur to find out her side of the story.

It Was a Warning, Not A Threat: Gurmehar Kaur

“Going to the police if you feel you have been wronged, is not a threat. If anything, it’s a warning. There is a huge difference between warning someone and threatening them,” Kaur said.

“I honestly hoped to reason with the admin of the page when I sent the messages. I thought I could convince the person handling the page that what they found funny was hurting me. I wouldn’t need to go to the cops then.”

Well, the meme makers clearly failed to see this point.

The Facebook page did take the memes down, but not before accusing Kaur of threatening them, by which time, she had already filed a complain with the cyber police and forwarded the same to Facebook India for review.

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What Gurmehar Kaur Has to Say to Her Critics

As soon as the tweet claiming Kaur threatened kids over meme went viral, she faced strong criticism that called her a ‘hypocrite who doesn’t uphold the freedom of speech and expression all the time.’

Freedom of speech and expression is not a licence to insult and abuse people. I am not a public person. I don’t hold a portfolio that serves the people. I have all the rights to ask something to be taken down that I find defamatory. And that’s exactly what I did. I asked them first, and when they didn’t heed my request, I reported it. It is up to the cops and the legal system to decide whether it was defamatory or not.
Gurmehar Kaur

When asked what she found offensive about those memes in particular, Kaur pointed out, “It wasn’t just the memes by itself, which I did have an issue with as it used my picture. But that wasn’t all. The issue is the reactions it created. The comments below the posts were full of negative and vulgar messages. It was being shared on Facebook. My friends, family and relatives are seeing it. The problem isn’t the meme itself, but the 10,000-something people it is reaching who are adding to the negativity.”

Kaur said it was rather disheartening to see that a popular digital media publishing a one-sided story without asking for her comments.

“They chose to write that I was ‘silent’ on the matter when they haven’t even reached out to me for my comment.”

What the Law Says on Defamation

Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.  
Defamation: Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code

According to how Section 499 of the IPC defines ‘defamation’, if Kaur has reasons to believe that the said memes bring harm to her reputation, then it is well within her rights to file a defamation case. It should be noted that by referencing taking this to the police, Kaur was evidently warning of criminal defamation under the IPC rather than civil defamation.

However, the meme makers would also probably have reasonable defence against such a charge. As the meme was a public post that Kaur had made last year and has been freely available online, the memes could be viewed as expression of opinion on material made available to the public for comment. Such opinions are protected under specific exceptions to the IPC.

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