Two witnesses testified in favour of former Union minister MJ Akbar on Friday during the hearing of a defamation case he has filed against journalist Priya Ramani in a Delhi court. In October, Ramani and several other women had accused Akbar of sexual misconduct during his time as a prominent editor years ago.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal recorded the statements of Akbar’s former colleagues Sunil Gujral and Veenu Sandal on Friday, who said that the allegations had come as a shock to them and irreparable damage was caused to Akbar’s reputation, PTI reported. Another witness, former colleague Joyeeta Basu, had made a similar statement in the previous hearing on November 12.
Basu is the editor of The Sunday Guardian, and Gujral is the printer and publisher of the newspaper. Akbar had founded the newspaper in 2010.
Gujral said he had never heard any whisper about any kind of misconduct by Akbar. “I spoke to Akbar thereafter [after Ramani’s allegations] as I felt embarrassed and let down,” Gujral said. “Besides this, my embarrassment was compounded as friends and acquaintances who knew of all my old association with Akbar of almost 40 years started asking embarrassing questions, which made me feel very bad since I felt that irreparable damage has been done to Akbar’s reputation in my estimation as well as in estimation of my friend circle and acquaintances.”
Journalist Veenu Sandal, the other witness who testified on Friday, said Ramani’s tweets were a “huge jolt” for her. “It was really distressing that the allegations had been made and that he could do the things that Ramani had alleged...” she deposed. “It was very shocking and painful to think that someone you had placed on a pedestal could allegedly fall so low.”
“It was very obvious that not only in my eyes but also in others, his reputation had been dragged through the mud and was in tatters,” she said.
The court will next hear the case on January 11.
The allegations and the defamation case
In a Vogue India article published last year, Ramani had described how an acclaimed newspaper editor called her for a job interview to his “plush south Mumbai hotel” when she was 23 and he was 43. The editor – who she claimed on October 8 was Akbar – did not meet Ramani in the hotel lobby and insisted that she meet him in his room. There, he offered her a drink. Though she refused, he drank vodka himself. She alleged that he went on to sing old Hindi songs to her and at one point, asked her to sit close to him.
Akbar filed a case against Ramani in October after she identified him as the acclaimed editor she had written about. Though nearly 20 women have so far accused him of sexual misconduct, the former minister has called all the allegations “wild”, “baseless” and a “sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe”. Akbar also hinted that there was a political motivation for the sexual harassment allegations as they have come up months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He stepped down as the minister of state for external affairs after the allegations.