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Priya Ramani Acquitted in MJ Akbar Defamation Case

Left: Priya Ramani Twitter Right: MJ Akbar Source: Mubasshir Mushtaq License: CC-BY-SA-3.0

Priya Ramani, the senior journalist who accused former Union Minister MJ Akbar of alleged sexual misconduct, was acquitted of all charges on Wednesday by a Delhi Court in the defamation case filed by Akbar, Bar and Bench reported.

The case traces back to 2018 when Akbar filed a defamation case against Ramani after she accused him of sexual misconduct in 1993.

In the heyday of the #MeToo movement, Ramani had written an article for Vogue on October 12, 2017. The article, titled To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World, was addressed to “Dear Male Boss”. At that time, the identity of the boss was kept anonymous.

In October 2018, Ramani named Akbar as the editor who had harassed her. She said that the incident occurred during an interview with Akbar at a hotel room in Mumbai in 1993. Ramani said that she had decided to name him publicly after a number of women came forward to accuse Akbar of sexual harassment.

Akbar soon resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and filed a criminal case of defamation against Ramani. Akbar has since been denying the charges, claiming that he doesn’t remember the incident and has alleged that Ramani’s allegations were “malicious and fabricated”.

Over the past two years, Ramani’s lawyer, senior advocate Rebecca John, has pointed out more than 15 women who have accused Akbar of sexually assaulting them and who came out in the same year during the #MeToo movement.

The court had reserved its order for February 10 after both the sides had made their final submissions. After Akbar delayed his final submission, the court had postponed its verdict to February 17.

Throughout the tenure of the trial, Ramani has pleaded ‘truth’, ‘good faith’, ‘public interest’, and ‘public good’ as her defence.

Akbar had filed the defamation case against Ramani on the grounds that her accusation was the first one that harmed his “impeccable reputation”.

During the final hearing, the court accepted the possibility of Ramani’s defence that she disclosed her truth based on her own testimony along with that of Niloufer and Ghazala Wahab and hence Akbar was not a man of “stellar reputation”.

The court also took into consideration the existence of systematic abuse at the workplace and the absence of Vishakha guidelines at the relevant time.

While observing that “a man of social status” can also be “a sexual harasser”, the court said, “Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of (the) right to dignity”.

“The social stigma attached with the allegations… society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims,” the court observed.

Referring to the two-decade time that Ramani and other victims took to talk about the sexual harassment, the court noted: “A woman has right to put her grievance even after decades.”

The court has also informed both the parties that an appeal can be filed in case of any grievance and has also asked Ramani to furnish a bail bond in case an appeal is preferred.

Following the judgement, Ramani said, “Me, the victim had to stand up in court as the accused.”

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