A Delhi court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani on Wednesday in a criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar for accusing him of sexual misconduct. The court said that a woman has the right to put her grievances even after decades and that right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right to dignity.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said, “The woman has the right to put her grievances at any platform of her choice and even after decades,” adding, “Women cannot be punished for raising voice against the sexual abuse in the pretext of complaint of defamation.”
Ramani said, “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 judgment. 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.”
She added, “I thank everyone who stood by me, especially my witnesses who came to court and testified on my behalf. I thank the court for this verdict. I thank my lawyers, Rebecca John and her amazing team…They put their heart and soul into this case.”
Who is Priya Ramani?
Ramani is a journalist who began her career at The Asian Age in 1994. She has also worked with Reuters, Elle, India Today, Cosmopolitan magazine and Mint Lounge.
She has also written for Livemint, The Indian Express, and Vogue India.
Ramani also serves as an editorial board member of Article 14, a website about the rule of law in India.
Ramani came to the limelight after she published an article in Vogue India titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World,” that was styled as an open letter and began with “Dear Male Boss.”
What was Priya Ramani’s allegation against MJ Akbar?
In 2018, in wake of the #MeToo movement in India, Priya Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment during his stint as the editor of The Asian Age in the 90s, after which he resigned as a Union minister. Akbar was the then Minister of State for External Affairs.
Akbar had resigned on October 17, 2018 after Priya Ramani, through an article published in lifestyle magazine Vogue India, had levelled charges of sexual harassment without naming him.
On October 8, 2018, the journalist first named the editor-turned politician in a Twitter post.
Taking to Twitter, Ramani had revealed that an article she had written last year about an editor inviting her to his hotel room for a job interview and asking her to sit on the bed with him, was Akbar.
Following this, multiple allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against the former editor.
Akbar sued Ramani
Refuting the charges, MJ Akbar had termed them as “a figment of imagination” and had also dismissed the #MeToo movement as a “viral fever” in a statement.
The former Union minister had then sued Ramani, seeking her prosecution under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for defamation.
Later while appearing before the court, Akbar had termed the allegations levelled by Priya Ramani as “concocted and false” and something which has caused “immediate damage” to his reputation.
“The opening sentence of her tweet explained one anomaly. When the article was first published in Vogue, it didn’t include my name. When asked about it, she said it was because ‘I had done nothing’. Clearly, she was advised by Vogue that including my name would invite liability….There was immediate damage because of the scurrilous nature of the concocted and false allegations. I was attacked about the alleged and fabricated non-events. I chose to seek justice in my personal capacity without the appurtenance of the office and that’s why I resigned,” he was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
What was Ramani’s statement against Akbar?
In September 2019, while recording her statement as a witness in a defamation plaint filed against her by Akbar, Ramani affirmed that her disclosures against Akbar were first made much earlier than 2018. She said, “I spoke the truth when I disclosed the experience of my first job interview in my Vogue article and my tweet of October 8. It was important and necessary for women to speak up about sexual harassment at the workplace. Many of us are brought up to believe that silence is a virtue.”
“In all my disclosures pertaining to Mr Akbar, I spoke the truth in the public interest and the public good. It was my hope that the disclosures which were a part of the MeToo movement would empower women and would help them better understand their rights at the workplace,” she told. She said the case has come at great personal cost to her. “I have nothing to gain of it. I am a well-known journalist, I live a quiet life with my family in Bangalore.”
She also said that it is not easy for any woman to make such disclosures. “By staying silent, I could have avoided the targeting but that would not have been the right thing to do,” she added.
She also said that it was wrong to suggest that her tweets and articles lowered the reputation of Akbar in the estimation of the general public and right-thinking members of society.
(With agency inputs)