Former Union minister MJ Akbar on Tuesday submitted to a Delhi court that journalist Priya Ramani had failed to prove charges of sexual harassment against him, PTI reported.
Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra represented Akbar on Tuesday in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey, while making the final submissions in the criminal defamation case filed by the former minister against Ramani. In December, the journalist’s lawyer had made her final submissions to the court.
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 the defamation case.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Luthra contended that Ramani had not provided any proof of the meeting between her and Akbar, which she had mentioned in her sexual harassment allegation.
“Where is the discharge of your onus...claiming an alleged meeting,” she said, according to Bar and Bench. “There has to be something to prove it, it cannot be in the air...You have not shown telephone record, car parking [record], CCTV [footage].” She also pointed out details from an earlier cross examination of Akbar, done by Ramani’s lawyer, and suggested that there were contradictions.
Luthra countered Ramani’s submission that she did not lodge a complaint or raise the matter when the alleged incident took place, as legal remedies were not available.
“There were remedies available in law,” Luthra said. “They were available from 1860. Fact is, anytime there is a grievance at workplace, there is availability, there is NCW [National Commission for Women]...You have not taken recourse to law. Your act was extra legal.”
Luthra then argued against Ramani’s submission that she deserved to be acquitted as she shared her experience in good faith and encouraged other women to speak out against sexual harassment.
Akbar’s lawyer said that Ramani should have stuck to “truth, facts and research”, if she wanted to raise awareness.
“You have to do the investigative job of journalist where you can prove every full stop and comma,” she said, according to Bar and Bench. “It’s easy to malign...then you say I am raising awareness.” She said Ramani’s allegations had finished “50 years of hardwork” of Akbar “in a stroke”.
The court decided on January 14 and January 18 as next two dates for hearing of the case, and asked lawyers of both the parties to conclude their arguments within this month.
Akbar had on December 24 made a similar submission that Akbar did not meet Ramani at the hotel, where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. The former Union minister’s lawyer had also submitted that Ramani spoke about the incident on social media years after it happened.
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.
In November, 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 Pandey.