New Delhi: Former union Minister MJ Akbar’s defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani — filed over her allegations of sexual misconduct against him — could not be proved, a Delhi Court said today, acquitting her of all charges.
“Woman can’t be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse,” the court said. “The Indian constitution allows woman to put forward her grievances before any forum and at any time,” the judge said, taking cognisance of the lack of mechanisms to raise sexual harassment complaints.
“It can’t be ignored that most times sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors… Most of the women who suffer abuse can’t often speak up due to stigma and attack on their character,” added Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey.
“It feels amazing, truly does. I feel vindicated on behalf of all the women who have ever spoken out against sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves despite the fact that it is me, being the victim who had to stand up in court as the accused,” she told the media after the verdict.
Ms Ramani had accused the former editor of sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement of 2018. Tweeting a newspaper article, she said the alleged sexual misconduct took place around 20 years ago, when Mr Akbar headed Asian Age.
He had called her to his hotel bedroom for a job interview and behaved inappropriately, she had said. The tweet had opened the floodgates, with around a dozen women stepping forward with similar allegations against the former editor.
On October 15 that year, Mr Akbar — then a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet — approached the court. He resigned two days later, on October 17, 2018.
In a 41-page defamation suit, Mr Akbar alleged that Priya Ramani’s tweets and newspaper article had spoiled the reputation and goodwill he built over 40 years and he had to step down from PM Modi’s government.
Comments on Ramani had said the lawsuit was “an attempt to intimidate” her. The case, she said, was also an attempt to “create a chilling effect among all the women who spoke out about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar”.