On Wednesday, the Indian #MeToo movement proved triumphant once again when a Delhi court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the defamation case filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar. During the #metoo movement in 2018, Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment.
Let’s know more about this verdict and the background of the incident.
An overview of the timeline of events
In 2017, Ramani accused a renowned newspaper editor of sexual harassment through an article in Vogue India, and, back then, she had not revealed the name. However, during the Indian wave of the #MeToo movement in 2018, she declared that the editor was Akbar. Following the wave of this allegation, Akbar resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and filed a defamation case against Ramani.
Thus, as a consequence of this defamation case, The Patiala House Court summoned Ramani as an accused in January 2019, and finally, in February 2019, she was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000. Further in May 2019, Akbar openly denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room, where Ramani had alleged that she was sexually harassed.
In September 2020, Ramani told the Delhi court about how her acquittal is necessary and she intended to empower other women to speak up against all the injustices. According to Scroll, “In November, Ramani and Akbar had rejected the court’s proposal for mutual settlement in the case.” “On November 18, the Delhi High Court had transferred Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja, who presided over the case. He was replaced by Pandey”, the article further said.
Akbar was represented by Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, while Ramani was represented by lawyer Rebecca John.
Throughout the proceedings, John highlighted and stuck with the fact that Ramani opened up about her story for the public good.
In the previous hearing on January 27th, she added, “Merely because the accused (Ramani) had not named in 2017, it does not take away the credibility of the allegations made at the height of the #MeToo. ”
The Hindu reported that John in court stated, “This is what harassment looks like. No human being accused of sexual harassment can be a person of high reputation.”
“No journalist guilty of contempt of court can be a man of high reputation. Writing books does not define reputation,” she added, pointing attention to the fact that Mr. Akbar was held guilty by Delhi High Court in a contempt of court case.
On the other end, Akbar’s counsel stated and claimed all the allegations to be defamatory, and said that it was an attempt to lower his reputation. He has also said that Ramani didn’t produce any evidence to validate her story. As a countering response to this, John said that Ramani’s accusations were backed with solid evidence and was also supported in solidarity by multiple women.
However, on February 10th, the matter was adjourned as the written submissions were received late by the judge. and the verdict was declared on the 17th of February.
What did the Judge say?
According to Bar and Bench, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey, while giving out the verdict stated that a woman has the right to “put her grievance even after decades”, implying that there is no time frame for a woman to open up about the injustice meted out to her. He also noted that the Vishakha guidelines were not relevant at the time of the alleged incident. During the hearing, the court reinstated that “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser.”
Live law reported that the court’s judgment was based on Ramani’s revelations that were stated in the “interest of anti-sexual harassment at workplace” and that it also incorporated “systematic abuse at the workplace”.
The order rightfully upheld the fact that sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence, “Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of the right to dignity,” was a starking landmark line of the order.
The order further added, “The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implications on victims” “The victims of the sexual abuse not even speak a word about abuse for many years because sometimes she herself [may] have no idea that she is a victim of abuse.”
The court also brought to attention Article 21 of the Constitution that protected the right of equality before the law.
Ramani said, “Don’t forget I was the accused in this case and I was accused just for speaking up.”
In a conversation with reporters after the verdict, Ramani commented, “This matter has been about women, it hasn’t been about me.” “I happened to represent all the women who spoke up...the women who spoke up before me and the women who spoke up after. Speaking specifically on the impact of the judgment on the #MeToo movement.” She further said that the verdict will motivate more women to speak up and it will make “powerful men think twice before they take victims to court”.
Supporting her ideas and statements John said, “I think in one sense, the fact that it [the sexual harassment revelation] was made on the #MeToo platform and Priya [Ramani] repeatedly said that it gave me the courage to come out and speak because other women were speaking...I think this judgment validates that.”
The official handle of the Me Too movement in India rejoiced the verdict and wrote: “We won this”.
Several others expressed their solidarity and celebrated the verdict.