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MJ Akbar Defamation Case: Priya Ramani Acquitted

MJ Akbar Defamation Case: Priya Ramani Acquitted

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NEW DELHI, Feb 17: The Delhi magisterial court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed against her by the former Union Minister and a reputed editor MJ Akbar.

Ramani had sued Akbar with allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. With several other women making similar allegations against him, Akbar was forced to resign as Minister of State for External Affairs in October, 2018.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey acquitted Ramani observing that he accepts “the possibility of defence of accused that she disclosed her truth on the basis of her own testimony and that of defence witness, Niloufer Venkatraman.”

The court observed that a woman has right to voice her grievance even after several years. “Most women do not talk about the sexual harassment due to stigma that surrounds it. Sometimes even the victim does not understand as to what is happening. Despite going through extreme cruelty, they chose to stay quiet,” the court said.

The court accepted the contention that Akbar was “not a man of stellar and impeccable reputation” and pointed out that right of reputation can’t be weighed over the right of the life of a woman.

It regretted the absence of laws to protect survivors of sexual harassment when the incident had happened. “Prior to the issuance of the Vishaka guidelines by the Supreme Court, they (survivors) did not have the option to lodge the complaint of sexual harassment due to social stigma,” the court ruled.

In 2018, Ramani had made allegation of sexual misconduct against Akbar in the wake of Metoo movement. According to her in December, 1993, Akbar sexually harassed her when she was called to a Mumbai hotel for a job interview when the latter was an editor. Following her disclosure, Akbar had filed the defamation case against her two days before he resigned from the then Narendra Modi cabinet on October 17, 2018.

The court observed that there was systemic abuse at workplaces   and said there was “social stigma” attached in allegations of sexual harassment.

The court said “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser. Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity.”

On Ramani using the #MeToo platform to put forward her grievances, the court said “a woman has the right to put her grievance even after decades.”

Following the pronouncement, Ramani told reporters, “This battle has been about women, hasn’t been about me. I just happen to represent all the women who spoke up, the women who spoke up before me and the ones who spoke up after me. I thought this was a very apt judgement. My victory will definitely encourage more women to speak up and it will also make powerful men think twice before they take victims to court. Don’t forget that I was the accused in this case. I was accused just for speaking up.”

Akbar did not look up as the verdict was being read out and left the court room surrounded by his lawyers.

The case has been argued for over two years, with Ramani and Akbar’s advocates often getting into heated verbal arguments.

(Manas Dasgupta)


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