Former Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar and journalist Priya Ramani on Tuesday told a Delhi court that there was no scope of a settlement in the criminal defamation case filed by him against her, PTI reported. In October 2018, Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment, following which he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and sued her.
On November 21, newly transferred Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey had asked both the parties whether there was a chance of settlement between them in the matter as the offence was compoundable in nature. Last week, Pandey replaced Vishal Pahuja, who had presided over the criminal defamation case.
“Did the counsel have a chance to talk or are the doors shut?” Pandey asked during Tuesday’s hearing, according to Bar and Bench.
Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra said that if Ramani was apologetic for her allegations, she would ask her client to consider closing the complaint.
Bhavook Chauhan, representing Ramani, told the court that the journalist stood by her statement and if Akbar wanted to withdraw the complaint, he may do so. “Our stand is clear,” Chauhan said.
The final arguments in the case started afresh after Pahuja’s transfer. Luthra again reiterated that Akbar has a “long, illustrious career” with an impeccable reputation. “In 2017, the accused [Priya Ramani] wrote an article which did not name the complainant, Akbar,” she told the court. “A year later, she tweets about it.”
Luthra added that Akbar was “harmed” by the words used by Ramani. “Linking someone with an article one year ago shows that intention has no bonafide basis,” she said. “It was per se defamatory.”
The case will be taken up for hearing again on December 2 and December 5 at 12 pm.
Ramani had first made the 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.
The Patiala House Court had on January 2019 issued summons to Ramani in the defamation case. In February 2019, she 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.
Ramani told the court in Delhi on September 19 that she deserved to be acquitted, because she shared her experience in good faith and encouraged other women to speak out against sexual harassment. Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John, while submitting her final arguments in the case, said that Ramani had proved her allegations against Akbar with solid evidence, which were also confirmed by multiple women.
Ramani’s lawyer also responded to Akbar’s accusation that her tweets had tarnished the reputation he built through his work. “Hard work is not exclusive to MJ Akbar,” she quoted Ramani as saying. “This case is not about how hard he worked.. My case is that before I met him, I admired him as a journalist. But his conduct with me and the shared experience of other women do not justify this complaint.”