New Delhi, Feb 17 (PTI) A Delhi court Wednesday threw out M J Akbar's criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani who accused him of sexual harassment, saying a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against such abuse.
A woman has the right to put grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades, the court said and dismissed Akbar's complaint holding that no charges were proved against Ramani.
It said right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right of life and dignity of a woman as guaranteed in Constitution under article 21 and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under article 14.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said it is shameful that incidents of crime and violence against women are happening in the country where mega epics such as “Mahabarata” and “Ramayana” were written around the theme of respect for women.
Ramani made allegations of sexual misconduct against Akbar in the wake of global #MeToo movement in 2018.
Akbar filed the complaint against her on October 15, 2018 for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct decades ago when he was a journalist.
He resigned as Union minister on October 17, 2018 and denied all the allegations of sexual harassment against him by the women who came forward during #MeToo campaign against him.
The court said it is of 'the considered view that case of complainant regarding commission of offence punishable under section 500 IPC against the accused Priya Ramani is not proved and she is acquitted for the same'.
Reacting to the verdict, Ramani said it feels great to have truth validated before the court.
She said: 'It feels amazing, truly does. I feel vindicated on behalf of all the women who have ever spoken out against sexual harassment at work place. It was me the victim who had to stand up in the court as an accused. I thank everyone who stood by me especially my witnesses Ghazala Wahab who came to the court and testified on my behalf .
'I thank the court for the verdict and I thank my lawyer Rebecca John and the amazing team who believed in me and the wider cause. They put their heart and sould in the case'.
In its 91-page verdict the court said that a woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.
It said, 'The woman cannot be punished for raising voice against the sex abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation as the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in Constitution under article 21 and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under article 14 of the Constitution.' Accepting Ramani's contention that Akbar is not a man of stellar reputation on the basis of testimony of witnesses, the court said it cannot be ignored that most of the time, the offence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse committed in the close doors or privately. Sometimes victims themselves do not understand what is happening to them or what is happening to them is wrong, the court said.
'Despite how well respected some persons are in the society, they in their personal lives, could show extreme cruelty to the females,' it added. 'The Court takes consideration of systematic abuse at workplace due to lack of the mechanism to redress grievance of sexual harassment at the time of the incident...against Priya Ramani and witness Ghazala Wahab prior to the issuance of Vishaka Guidelines and enactment of The Sexual Harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, or their option to not lodge the complaint...due to the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment of women,' the verdict said.
The court further observed that the society should understand that an abusive person is just like rest, having family and friends and can also be well respected person of the society.
'The victims of the sexual abuse do not even speak a word about abuse for many years because sometimes she herself have no idea that she is a victim of abuse. The victim may keep believing that she is at fault and victim may live with that shame for years or for decades.
'Most of the women who suffer abuse do not speak up about it or against it for simple reason 'The Shame' or the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment and abuse. The sexual abuse, if committed against woman, takes away her dignity and her self confidence,' the court said.
It said that attack on the character of sex offender by the victim is the reaction of self defence after the mental trauma regarding the shame attached with the crime.
'The subtlety of the questions, asked in a situation of intense personal trauma, is indicative of her cerebral power and her ability of sharp and logical analysis. The Indian women are capable, pave the way for them to excel, they only require the freedom and equality. 'The 'glass ceiling' will not prevent the Indian women as a road lock for their advancement in the society, if equal opportunity and social protection be given to them,' it said. Referring to Economic Survey, 2020-21, the court said that work force participation rate of women in India was 26.5 per cent in 2018-19 as compared to 80.3 per cent for men and it suggested that in order to incentivise women a safe work environment needs to be created, among other things. PTI UK PKS SA RKS RKS