Former Union minister MJ Akbar’s lawyer on Thursday told a court in Delhi that it was journalist Priya Ramani who targeted him by accusing him of sexual harassment, Bar and Bench reported. The lawyer claimed Akbar had an “unblemished” reputation before Ramani made the allegations against him.
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, who made submissions on his behalf before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey, said that it was Ramani who started the entire controversy. “False, defamatory statement by her lead to repeat by other persons and media,” Luthra said in the submissions. “She started this. That’s why immediately after my coming back, I [Akbar] made the complaint against her.”
Luthra also countered Ramani’s argument that she spoke out against Akbar years later because there was a “vacuum in law” at the time of the incident. “Women have tried due process and lost hope,” Ramani had said.
“Due process was available to women,” Akbar’s lawyer said. “When Priya [Ramani] says there was no availability of due process, it is incorrect.” Luthra went on to say that Ramani had no wish to opt for the due process and it was easier to “defame” Akbar on social media. She also accused her of disrespecting the legal system.
Akbar told the court through his lawyer that none of the people who worked under him ever made any defamatory accusations against him. “A reputation is a day by day, minute by minute, brick by brick built structure,” he said, according to Live Law. “It takes one second to destroy it. It takes 50 years to build it. No one has casted a single blemish. Thousands of employees have been working with me every year, even more than that. There was not a whisper for over 50 years.”
The former union minister added that he had the right to file the defamation case against Ramani. “Unlike her and other people I believe in due process,” Akbar said, according to The Indian Express. “There is sanctity of law. It is on her [Ramani] to prove the misconceived allegations for which she goes to a public platform and does not take discourse to due process.”
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.”