All eyes are on the verdict of the criminal defamation case brought about by politician and journalist MJ Akbar, once a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, who alleged defamation of his ‘stellar reputation’. He is suing the eminent journalist Priya Ramani, who has accused him of sexually harassing her when she was a junior and he was her boss.
Ramani has stood by her allegations over the past years, and has in turn empowered other women to come out with similar stories of being sexually harassed by Akbar over the years. The #MeToo movement in India, especially Indian journalism, cost Akbar his ministerial job, as his political patrons chose to distance themselves.
Now, on February 10, a Delhi trial court is expected to pronounce a verdict in the criminal defamation case brought by Akbar, against Priya Ramani. The case was being tried for around two years at the Rouse Avenue Court. Its verdict is likely to have an impact on the future of movements such as #MeToo, and on how sexual harassment survivors will feel approaching legal authorities in the future with complaints against powerful men.
Ramani, had even been asked in court about the ‘delay’ in reporting the crime when it happened. There was a “vacuum in law 25 years ago,” was her powerful reply, “When the incident took place in 1993 there was a gap in the law…whom could have I complained to? Legally I could not have evoked sexual harassment act because it was not in place.” Ramani’s powerful statement, put forth by Ramani’s lawyer Rebbecca John, one of the leading criminal law experts in the country, was widely reported, and hailed as a testimony of resilience, and of the fact that it is never too late to seek justice.
Former Union minister M J Akbar’s case in the defamation suit against her was centred on his “stellar reputation”, but this was false and “I had every right to contest it,” journalist Priya Ramani told the court that day.
On October 23, the District & Sessions Judge, Rouse Avenue finally refused to transfer the case from a Special MP/MLA Court, reported Bar and Bench. On October 13, SabrangIndia had reported on the defamation case being transferred to District and Sessions Judge after having Senior Advocate Rebecca John spend three long months arguing the case on behalf of journalist Priya Ramani.
When the #MeToo movement was gaining traction in India, as many as 17 women had accused the former Union Minister of sexual misconduct including rape in one case. In October, 2018, MJ Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani blaming her for tarnishing his reputation and calling him names such as ‘media’s biggest predator’.
Till date, he has denied all allegations terming it “false, fabricated and deeply distressing”. On October 22, 2020, the Judge refused to transfer the defamation case away from a Special MP/MLA Court. The case was being heard in since 2018, however, the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja had listed the matter before a District and Sessions Judge of the Rouse Avenue District Court on October 14 for appropriate orders. Advocate Rebecca John had spent three months arguing the case, the brilliant final arguments were reported widely. But ACMM Vishal Pahuja, had said that “only matters filed against MPs and MLAs can be listed before the Rouse House Avenue Court” whereas the case filed by MJ Akbar, a former Minister of State for External Affairs, dealt with defamation.
As late as November 2020, the court had asked if there was a possibility of a settlement in the criminal defamation case. Counsel appearing for Ramani informed the court that the chances of compromise are bleak as the facts of the case were peculiar in nature and that his client, Ramani stands by her statement and allegations.
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