Journalist Priya Ramani on Tuesday said that she revealed allegations of sexual harassment against former Union minister MJ Akbar after 25 years because there was a “vacuum in law” and no platform to share her experience at the time, Bar and Bench reported.
A court in Delhi was hearing a criminal defamation case Akbar filed against Ramani for accusing him of sexually harassing her in a hotel room in 1993. Ramani’s lawyer, Rebecca John, made her final arguments before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja at a virtual hearing.
“There was an absolute vacuum in 1993,” John told the court on behalf of Ramani. “This issues touches a public question and public good. Next landmark in the sphere was in 2018 when #MeToo movement began in India...They say I made these allegations because he’s a member of a particular political party. The delay was on account of the fact that there was a vacuum in law and there was no platform either. A gap in the law was recognised by Supreme Court in 1997. My incident is of 1993. Whom could have I complained to?”
John said women are taught that silence is a virtue and that the disclosure of her personal experience with Akbar came at a “great” personal cost. “I have nothing to gain...by keeping silence I could have avoided a lot of trouble. But that would not have been right,” she added. “Her [Ramani’s] experience is the fulcrum on which good faith rests. It is validated subsequently by the combined experience of multiple women making similar allegations.”
Priya 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 Akbar as that editor in October 2018 during the #MeToo movement, in a series of tweets. Soon after this, around 20 more women accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career before he became a politician.
John said Ramani’s revelations came during the #MeToo movement as there was an “avalanche” taking place in India. “Seeing all these women, I felt compelled to speak,” the counsel submitted. “A predator is more powerful than his prey.”
Ramani’s counsel also stated that the importance of the #MeToo movement cannot be contested. During Tuesday’s hearing, John argued that Ramani’s story is adequately corroborated by the statements of her friend Nilofer Venkatraman and how the questions raised by Akbar on the veracity and intention of the allegations are baseless.
“Ramani’s stand is credible, reliable and she has not shaken on material facts,” John said. “They [complainant] shied away from the hotel incident. You can prove that he never stayed at the hotel. But they didn’t because Ramani is speaking the truth...Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction, are relevant, whether they occurred at the same time and place or at different times and places.”
While referring to the testimony by journalist and author Ghazala Wahab, John said: “None of the averments by Akbar with respect to his stellar reputation can be sustained.” Wahad testified in December and said the alleged sexual harassment by Akbar had forced her to quit her job at the Asian Age newspaper while he was the editor.
The court will continue hearing the arguments next on September 14.
In February 2019, Ramani was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000. In May 2019, 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 has denied all the allegations against him. In February, he claimed in court that Ramani’s allegations of sexual misconduct were a “figment of her imagination”. Akbar’s lawyer Geeta Luthra said that the allegations had caused the BJP leader “great humiliation” and “irreparably damaged his reputation”.