Ramani acquitted in MJ Akbar defamation case: Key takeaways from the verdict
A Delhi court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in a criminal defamation case filed after she accused former Union minister MJ Akbar of sexual misbehaviour during a work interview in December 1993. Here is all you need to know about the verdict:
• The court emphasised that the right to protect one’s reputation cannot be at the cost of a woman’s right to dignity.
• It pointed out that even a person of high social standing can be a sexual harasser, and that a woman cannot be punished for raising instances of abuse.
• The court underlined the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman guaranteed in the Constitution under Article 21, and right of equality before the law and equal protection of the law under Article 14.
• It said the woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.
• Ramani hoped the verdict will encourage more women to speak up.
• Her lawyer, Rebecca John, said that the path-breaking judgment upheld that no truth is exempted from the purview of defamation.
• The case was filed after Ramani in October 2018 shared an article on Twitter written in 2017 in Vogue India magazine following allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as part of the Me Too movement in the US.
• The article did not name MJ Akbar. It described her experience of an interview with a newspaper editor for a reporter’s position. She named him in the tweet.
• Akbar, who was a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the time, resigned shortly after a host of women, besides Ramani, made allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against him.
• He filed a criminal defamation suit under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, arguing that the incident was not as she described it in her article. He also said that a tweet by Ramani describing him as a predator had caused irreparable damage to his reputation.
• Akbar’s lawyer Geeta Luthra argued that Ramani’s statements on Twitter were “per se defamatory” and questioned her decision to speak up several years after the purported incident.
• Luthra pointed out that Ramani had no evidence in the form of CCTV footage or phone records to back her claim.
• But the court recognised that no legal remedies were available to Ramani when she was sexually harassed.
• The Vishaka Guidelines against sexual harassment, the Sexual Harassment of the Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act and Section 354 A, which made sexual harassment a criminal offence, came up in the subsequent years.
• The court noted that many women opt not to complain even now due to the fear of stigma.