- Hindustan Times National Political Editor Sunetra Choudhury explains 5 key departures from the verdict in the MJ Akbar defamation case against former journalist Priya Ramani, who had accused her of sexual harassment.
By Sunetra Choudhury, New Delhi
SUBJECT TO ON FEBRUARY 18, 2021 10:09 AM IST
A court in Delhi acquitted former journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar. The latter had sued Raman after she accused him of sexual harassment. The court said a woman has the right to file a complaint several years after the alleged crime occurred. Hindustan Times National Political Editor Sunetra Choudhury explains the top 5 departures from the decision.
1- The victim had to prove her intent: In the beginning, Priya Ramani won this historic case against sexual harassment, but the biggest departure is that a woman who was sexually harassed had to prove her motives, that she was not guilty for defamation and was making no false claims. It took more than 2 years for Priya to clean up the accused’s label. Why Because at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017, she wrote an article that revealed how years ago journalist MJ Akbar had harassed her by inviting her to his hotel room for a job interview. Raman’s accusations were in fact the mildest. Witness Ghazala Wahab Testimony Reveals Serious Allegations of Assault and Even Rape by U.S.-Working Journalist Pallavi Gogoi
2- I did nothing: Judgment is significant because it takes home the message that you do not have to touch someone inappropriately to sexually harass them. MJ Akbar tried to use Priya Ramani’s words that he did nothing ‘for his defense’ and claimed, she tarnished his reputation. However, the judgment came on such predatory behavior. 16 women came out publicly to say that Akbar harassed them and the court upheld them all, from physical rape to simply making someone feel unwell.
3- Women and the Workplace: Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey makes a strong argument for creating a better job for women in India. He uses the testimony of journalist Ghazala Wahab to emphasize that the prevention of sexual harassment is a woman’s right and is why women make up only 25% of the workforce. Ghazala, who was bullied by Akbar in the 1990s, recalls in her testimony how she did not get help from her seniors and was even afraid to tell her parents because they would just make her quit her career her. Now all workplaces should have Workplace Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) grievance cells but women are still cautious for this reason.
4- “Women have the right to complain even after decades”: One of the biggest challenges in cases of sexual harassment is that women often do not speak immediately after being harassed. In the 91-page trial, the allegations came to light two decades later, and yet the court believes the women making the allegations. The court was not distracted by the gas lighting that it was all a conspiracy to tarnish the image of an excellent journalist. In the end, the fact that she had a witness supporting her was enough for the court to believe her. The court says women have the right to talk about their experiences on any platform, even decades later.
Read also: Journalist Priya Ramani acquitted in defamation case
5- Court in Akbar: Not a man with a reputation of stars: MJ Akbar as a former union minister has a long CV that he uses as a weapon against Priya Ramani. That he has written several books, has been the editor of several newspapers, and for this reason he is the victim of a great slander campaign. The court simply says that the women’s accounts prove that he is not a star-studded man. The court goes on to say that no matter how respectful such a man is, a woman cannot be convicted of raising her voice against sexual abuse on the pretext of a criminal charge of defamation.
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