Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar case: 5 takeaways from the order
- Hindustan Times' National Political Editor Sunetra Choudhury explains 5 key takeaways from the verdict in the MJ Akbar's defamation case against former journalist Priya Ramani, who had accused him of sexual harassment.
A Delhi court acquitted former journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar. The latter had sued Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment. The court said that a woman has the right to voice grievance several years after the alleged crime took place. Hindustan Times' National Political Editor Sunetra Choudhury explains 5 key takeaways from the verdict.
1- Victim had to prove her intention: At the outset, Priya Ramani has won this historic case against sexual harassment but the biggest takeaway is that a woman who was sexually harassed had to prove her motives, that she was not guilty of defamation and was not making false allegations. It took more than 2 years for Priya to clear the tag of being an accused. Why? Because at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017, she wrote an article that revealed how years ago then journalist MJ Akbar had harassed her by inviting her to his hotel room for a job interview. Ramani's charges were actually the mildest. Witness Ghazala Wahab's testimony reveals serious charges of assault and even rape by a journalist working in the US, Pallavi Gogoi
2- Didn't “do'” anything: The judgment is significant because it drives the message home that you don't have to touch someone inappropriately to sexually harass them. MJ Akbar tried to use Priya Ramani's words that he ‘didn't do anything' to his defense and claimed, she tarnished his reputation. However, the judgment came down on such predatory behaviour. 16 women came out publicly to say that Akbar harassed them and the court upheld them all, from physical rape to just making someone feel uncomfortable.
3- Women & the workplace: Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey makes a strong argument for creating a better workplace for women in India. He uses journalist Ghazala Wahab's testimony to make the point that prevention of sexual harassment is a woman's right and is the reason why women make up only 25% of the workforce. Ghazala, who was harassed by Akbar in the '90s, recalls in her testimony how she got no help from her seniors and was even afraid to tell her parents because they would just make her quit her career. Now all workplaces have to have Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (POSH) complaint cells but women are still wary for this very reason.
4- `Women have a right to complain even after decades': One of the biggest challenges in sexual harassment cases is that women often don't speak up immediately after they've been harassed. In the 91- page judgment, the allegations came to light two decades later, and yet the court believes the women making the allegations. The court didn't get distracted by the gaslighting that it was all a conspiracy to tarnish a brilliant journalist's image. In the end, the fact that she had a witness who backed her up was enough for the court to believe her. The court says women have a right to speak about their experiences on any platform, even decades later.
5- Court on Akbar: Not a man of stellar reputation: MJ Akbar as former union minister has a long CV that he uses as a weapon against Priya Ramani. That he's written several books, been editor of several newspapers, and therefore he is the victim of a grand slander campaign. The court simply says that the accounts of the women prove that he “is not a man of a stellar reputation.” The court goes on to say that however respectable such a man is, “a woman cannot be punished for raising voice against sex abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation”.
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