In a landmark verdict on Wednesday, the Rouse Avenue Court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed against her by BJP MP MJ Akbar for her allegations of sexual harassment against him. While Ramani made this allegation against Akbar in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Akbar had filed a complaint against her on October 15, 2018, for allegedly defaming him. During the course of the hearing, senior advocate Geeta Luthra argued for Akbar while senior advocate Rebecca John appeared for Priya Ramani.
Assailing the "malicious allegations", Akbar's counsel contended that there was no complaint relating to the incident that purportedly occurred two decades back. On the other hand, Ramani's advocate pointed out that there was no mechanism against sexual harassment back then and stated that the claims were duly proved through her evidence. Accepting that Akbar was not a man of stellar reputation, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey took note of the systematic abuse at workplace and the absence of Vishakha guidelines at that time.
Maintaining that a man of high reputation can also be a sexual harasser, he stressed that "right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity". Moreover, he held that a woman has a right to put forth her grievances even after decades. In the key order, the judge also highlighted that the society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims. Quashing the criminal defamation case, he placed reliance on the testimony of Ramani and defence witnesses Niloufer Venkatraman and Ghazala Wahab.
Delhi Court acquits journalist Priya Ramani in criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar against her pic.twitter.com/Uv23xiESuQ— ANI (@ANI) February 17, 2021
I am feeling amazing, to have my truth vindicated in a court of law is really something: Priya Ramani on being acquitted in a criminal defamation case against her pic.twitter.com/xytkM0WENF— ANI (@ANI) February 17, 2021
In 2017, Ramani wrote an article in Vogue where she shared her an incident from 1993 when she felt intensely uncomfortable after being called to a hotel room by a male boss for a job interview. While the article titled 'To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world' did not name him, she tweeted on October 8, 2018, that the boss in question was MJ Akbar. Denying that such an incident ever took place, Akbar accused her of using language that was "deeply offensive, maligning, in bad faith and a web of fabrication, spun out of lies".
Amid growing uproar as more than a dozen other women also accused him of sexual harassment, Akbar stepped down as an Union Minister on October 17, 2018. While concluding her arguments during the trial, senior advocate Rebecca John observed that her Ramani's 2018 tweet was done in "public interest". Questioning the "selective prosecution" against the journalist, she said that it was perhaps owing to Ramani being a "soft and vulnerable target". On her part, Akbar's counsel aleged that Ramani's Vogue article was "fictituous" and emphasised that the harm done to the BJP MP's reputation was "unpardonable".