Senior journalist Priya Ramani’s friend, Niloufer Venkatraman, will be cross-examined by MJ Akbar’s lawyer today.
In a criminal defamation case hearing against senior journalist Priya Ramani filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar, she brought to court her friend Niloufer Venkatraman, a defence witness, on 25 October, to record her statement at the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal.
On 6 November, Niloufer Venkatraman was supposed to be cross-examined, however due to the lawyers’ strike, the hearing was adjourned. Ramani came all the way from Bengaluru for the hearing, while her friend Venkatraman flew in from Mumbai.
The cross-examination will now happen today.
Venkatraman had allegedly spoken to Ramani just hours after she met MJ Akbar in the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai in 1993 for an interview.
MJ Akbar has been accused of rape and sexual harassment by several women in the wake of the #MeToo movement in October 2018. He later filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani for ‘ruining his reputation’ with ‘false accusations’.
In the previous hearing, Venkatraman had recounted what Ramani had allegedly told her on the night of her 1993 interview with MJ Akbar.
"“Priya called me on my landline. She sounded upset and distraught. I asked her why she sounded so upset. She told me that the interview hadn’t gone as we had expected. To begin with, it was not conducted in the coffee shop or lobby. Instead, she had been called upto Mr Akbar’s room where they were alone. She went on to describe her extremely uncomfortable details of what had happened a few hours earlier.”" - Niloufer Venkatraman
After giving her statement, Akbar’s lawyers asked for another date for cross-examination as they felt Venkatraman came rehearsed, like she were “a ghost in the room”. Although the judge was not happy about the delay, he has given only one date for her cross-examination.
What Happened So Far
Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment as the #MeToo campaign raged in India last year.
Ramani has already testified as the first defence witness in the case wherein she recalled the entire timeline of events since 1993 — right from her "uncomfortable" interview with Akbar to leaving his office and never working with him again.
She added, “I never met Mr Akbar alone in the Delhi office or the Bombay office alone. We always interacted in the edit meetings or with the whole office.”
She talked about writing an article in Vogue magazine on male bosses in the backdrop of #MeToo movement.
"“While researching for the article, I couldn’t help but remember my personal story with my first male boss.”" - Priya Ramani
On 23 August, she had begun her statement under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the court and said, “I defend the truth spoken in public interest and for the public good. It is only now that sexual harassment at workplace is regarded as a serious offence.”
Akbar resigned as minister on 17 October 2018.
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