After a trial of almost two years, the Delhi Court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case by former Union Minister MJ Akbar.
The defamation case was in response to the accusations of sexual harassment levied upon MJ Akbar during the #MeToo Movement in 2018.
“You are acquitted from the present case”, the court proclaimed to Ms. Ramani.
“Women can’t be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse. The Indian constitution allows women to put forward her grievances before any forum and at any time” the court said.
“It can’t be ignored that most times sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors… Most of the women who suffer abuse can’t often speak up due to stigma and attack on their character,” judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey said.
“To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world”
In 2017, a year before #MeToo was still to gain momentum in India, Ms. Ramani wrote an article titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world” in Vogue India. The article was about male bosses in the context of the American #MeToo movement, and the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
In the article, she narrated her ordeal about the gut-wrenching incident of sexual misconduct she faced during a job interview with a renowned journalist, who remained unnamed but a year later, on 8 October 2018, she tweeted that the unnamed boss was none other than MJ Akbar.
This was around the same time when #MeToo was on a rise in India. After Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, more and more women working in the fields of entertainment, media, and stand-up came forward with their story of abuse, especially by men in power.
In the days before and after Ramani’s tweet, more than a dozen women alleged that they had been harassed, sexually assaulted, and even raped by MJ Akbar.
The Beginning Of The Case
Within one week of Ms. Ramani’s tweet, former Minister MJ Akbar sued her for criminal defamation.
In the court, he denied the incident alleged by Ms. Ramani and accused her of using “language that was deeply offensive, maligning, in bad faith and a web of fabrication, spun out of lies“.
He went on and said that her “wrong, false, defamatory and malicious” tweets became “the basis of articles in the Indian and international press” which “adversely affected my public reputation as well as my standing within family and friends,” and that he had filed the case “to protect his (my) reputation“.
The Lawyer Who Led The Fight
Priya Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John is among the country’s most esteemed senior lawyers, notable for having represented many high-profile cases.
Her portfolio includes representation of the Talwar parents in the Aarushi Talwar murder case, stockbroker Harshad Mehta, cricketer S Sreesanth and victims of the anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
“It was very, very difficult. You saw how difficult it was inside the court to get your word across, it was an extremely difficult trial to do,” she said after the long-awaited verdict was pronounced.
The case has proved to be a victory for the #MeToo Movement in India and will set an example for women to not be afraid and speak up against injustices.
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