Journalist Priya Ramani, who accused former minister and editor MJ Akbar of sexual harassment, on Monday told a court in New Delhi that she had spoken up more than two decades after the event so that women in similar situations might find the courage to fight back, ANI reported.

She deposed before the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal in a criminal defamation case brought against her by Akbar.

“This case has come at a great personal cost for me,” Ramani said during her cross examination. “I have nothing to gain from it. I am a well-known journalist and live a quiet life with my family in Bengaluru. It is not easy for any woman to express such disclosures.”

She said that by remaining silent she could have been avoided being targeted. But that would not have been the right thing to do, Ramani added. “It is important for women to speak up about sexual harassment at the workplace. Many of us are brought up to believe that silence is a virtue.”

In her statement in court, Ramani recounted that Akbar had called her to his hotel bedroom for a job interview in 1993 and had behaved inappropriately, NDTV reported. “When I reached his room, it was an intimate space, essentially his bedroom, and I was deeply uncomfortable and felt unsafe at Akbar’s repeated inappropriate personal questions, his offer of an alcoholic beverage, his loud singing of songs and his invitation to sit close to him,” she added.

Ramani said it was wrong to suggest that she had made the allegations against Akbar “maliciously, deliberately, in bad faith to malign Mr Akbar”. She also objected to the argument of Akbar’s counsel that she did not make any allegations against him before 2013 “as no such incident ever happened”.

“It is wrong to suggest that I have artificial distinction for purposes of creating a false defence in this defamation case,” Bar and Bench quoted her as saying. “It is wrong to suggest that nowhere in my tweet or article have I made any clarification or explanation that the Vogue article made any distinction between allegations against Mr Akbar and others. It is wrong to suggest that the article and tweets are referring entirely to Mr MJ Akbar.”

On Saturday, Ramani had told the court that her tweet, which Akbar has described as “defamatory”, was an attempt to highlight his “sexually coloured behaviour”. She said she felt compelled to identify Akbar after seeing other women accusing him of sexual harassment. Ramani said sexual harassment could be physical or verbal but by saying that Akbar did not “do” anything, she had tried to point out that there was no “overt act” but that did not excuse his behaviour.

The proceedings in the case will continue on October 24.

The case

Ramani had first made allegations about an incident of sexual harassment by an acclaimed newspaper editor in an article in Vogue India in 2017. She identified MJ Akbar as that editor in October 2018 during the #MeToo movement. Soon after this, around 20 more women accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career. In February, Ramani was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000.

On May 20, Akbar had denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. He denied all information about the meeting that Ramani had narrated.

Akbar had quit as minister of state for external affairs in October 2018, quit days after there were multiple allegations of harassment levelled against him.

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