Former Union minister MJ Akbar on Thursday told a court in Delhi that he did not meet journalist Priya Ramani at the hotel, where she alleged he had sexually harassed her, Bar and Bench reported.
Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in 2018, when the #MeToo movement began in India. After this, Akbar resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani.
Akbar’s lawyer Geeta Luthra, while making final submissions in the case, said that Ramani had been unable to provide any proof of her meeting with him. “You haven’t proved any date, hotel register, CCTV or ticket of entry in car parking,” she said. “The moment a meeting is denied, further questions are not warranted. None of the suggestions are warranted. The meeting in the hotel is denied.”
The former Union minister’s lawyer also submitted that Ramani spoke about the incident on social media years after it happened. “Principles of rule of law and natural justice say that you cannot make averments on a social media portal some 30 to 40 years later and tell a person that this is what happened,” Luthra said. “It has to be responsible and with evidence.”
Ramani has maintained that there was a “vacuum in law” at the time of the incident, and that she had no platform to share her experiences. The journalist has repeatedly said that she spoke out against Akbar in good faith.
The court of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate will hear the arguments in the case on January 4.
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On Tuesday, Akbar told the court that Ramani should have taken legal recourse instead of accusing him of sexual misconduct on social media.
During a hearing on December 18, Ramani’s lawyer told the court that Akbar “played a fraud” by not mentioning the accusations of sexual harassment levelled against him by other women and claiming that only her client’s statement defamed him.
Last month, Ramani and Akbar had rejected the court’s proposal for mutual settlement in the case. On November 18, the Delhi High Court had transferred Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja, who presided over the case. He was replaced by Ravindra Kumar Pandey.
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 during the #MeToo movement in 2018. Soon after, around 20 more women accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career.
The Patiala House Court summoned Ramani as an accused in January 2019 after Akbar filed the defamation case against her. In February 2019, she was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000.
In May, Akbar denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. He also dismissed all the information that Ramani provided about the meeting.
Ramani told the Delhi court in September that she deserved to be acquitted as she shared her experience in good faith and encouraged other women to speak out against sexual harassment. Her lawyer Rebecca John, while submitting the final arguments in the case, said that Ramani had proved her allegations against Akbar with solid evidence, which were also confirmed by multiple women.
The journalist 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 said. “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.”