Ramani: Sexual harassment victims facing criminal cases for telling truth

Anand Mohan J
M J Akbar leaves court after the hearing in a defamation suit he filed against journalist Priya Ramani. (Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

It is unfortunate that women who have experienced sexual harassment at the workplace must now defend themselves in criminal proceedings for speaking the truth, said journalist Priya Ramani Friday, appearing before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal s court to record her statement in a defamation case filed by former Union Minister M J Akbar.

Asked by the ACMM whether she had anything to say, Ramani replied, My defence is the truth spoken in public interest and for the public good. It is only now that sexual harassment at the workplace is regarded as a serious offence. In 2018, as the #MeToo movement swept across Indian media, film and entertainment, several women, including Ramani, had levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and
harassment against Akbar. He subsequently resigned from his position in Prime Minister Narendra Modi s government and filed a defamation lawsuit against Ramani alone.

Akbar and his witnesses, who deposed before the court earlier, had accused Ramani of defaming the former Union Minister. Responding to the allegations, Ramani told the court, He (Akbar) has deliberately targeted me to pert attention away from serious complaints against him. Through his testimony, he feigned ignorance about my story and my truth.

Ramani also told the court that it is false that my tweets affected the reputation of the complainant (Akbar). I spoke the truth and there was no deliberate attempt to harm the complainant s reputation . She added: My tweet was not malafide, in bad faith, deeply offensive, maligning and spun out of lies.

Referring to the article she wrote in Vogue Magazine in 2017, Ramani said, I began the article with my experience with Akbar. The subsequent portion was not about Akbar. It referred to the experiences of other females with their bosses. My tweets did not become the basis of articles in internationally known newspapers and websites.

Ramani told the court that Akbar was deliberately singling out her tweets and article. Referring to articles submitted by Akbar along with his complaint, she said: The articles were in fact based on the collective account of many women, including me, who spoke about their experiences at the hands of Akbar.

She also told the court that Akbar s witnesses were all motivated. My allegations were not against Akbar s reputation as a writer or an author. My allegations related to being sexually harassed and his conduct as an editor of a daily newspaper. My words were not false or offensive, Ramani told the court.

While answering the allegations that Akbar s witness, senior journalist Veenu Sandal, made during her deposition, Ramani told the court, Sandal s statement that she was deeply distressed to think that someone she had placed on a high pedestal could do what I alleged is her personal opinion and has no bearing on my case.

Ramani also said that there was nothing special about Akbar as deposed by his witness, Tapan Chaki. All the other editors I have worked with in my 25 years of being a journalist have writing skills, administrative skills, are exacting and demanding when it comes to copy, when it comes to schedule, and they have all had an uncanny sense of what constitutes news. There is nothing special about the complainant, Ramani told the court. She also said that it was false that Akbar has an impeccable reputation and was a perfect gentlemen holding good reputation in society.

Speaking about Joyeeta Basu, Editor of The Sunday Guardian, who deposed in Akbar s favour, Ramani told the court that Basu was a false witness and her tweet supporting Akbar a day after Ramani s tweet showed that Akbar s reputation was no destroyed or irreparably harmed in her eyes .

When ACMM Vishal asked Ramani, Why this case is against you? , she replied, This is a false and malicious case filed to create a chilling effect among all the women who spoke out about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar. It is an attempt to intimidate me. By deliberately targeting me, the complainant seeks to pert attention away from serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him and the public outrage that followed.

Ramani also asked the judge if she could briefly narrate her story before the court, which was allowed. She told the court that she was 23 years old when she was called by Akbar to his hotel for a job interview. She thought the interview would take place in a lobby or a coffee shop but Akbar insisted that she come up to his room.

I did not know how to refuse, I did not know that I could set the terms of my interview. When I reached his room, it was an intimate space, essentially his bedroom, and I was deeply uncomfortable and felt unsafe at Akbar s repeated, inappropriate personal questions, his offer of an alcoholic beverage, his loud singing of songs, and his invitation to sit close to him, Ramani told the court.

She ended her statement by saying, The #MeToo movement in America emboldened countless women to break their silence and share their experiences of sexual harassment at the workplace. In this context I wrote an article for Vogue magazine addressed to and titled to the Harvey Weinsteins of the world where I spoke about many women s experiences with many male bosses. One year later when the #MeToo movement came to India and many women in my industry, media, started speaking up about their stories of sexual harassment, I felt as a senior journalist a responsibility to remove the cloak of anonymity. I decided to name the editor on that Vogue article. I began the article with my M J Akbar experience but I did not name him. I spoke the truth in public interest and in the context of the #MeToo movement, I finally had the courage and the platform to name the complainant publicly.

Ramani s counsel, senior advocate Rebecca John, also gave a list of defence witnesses to the court. The court has fixed September 7 and 9 for examination of Ramani and her witnesses.