Former Union minister MJ Akbar on Monday told a Delhi court that journalist Priya Ramani damaged his reputation as she was the first to “instigate and ignite the flame” with her accusations of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place years ago, reported PTI.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey was hearing arguments in the criminal defamation case filed by Akbar against Ramani. She 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.
“It doesn’t matter what people say post facto,” senior advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Akbar, told the court. “Harm is done by the man who instigates and ignites the flame first.”
Luthra said Ramani’s testimony was “curiouser and curiouser”, reported Bar and Bench. “She [Ramani] wrote an article without naming anyone because it was a piece of fiction,” the advocate alleged. “What happened in 2018 that brought public interest when none existed in 2017. She could have spoken up when she wrote an article titled ‘Sorry boss we found our voice’.”
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.
Luthra added that there was “no public interest” in Ramani’s allegations against Akbar. There is no good faith either, she said. “There is just some other motive.”
Ramani’s allegations are “vindictive and actuated out of malice”, Luthra continued. “The fact is your can just spoil a person’s reputation,” she said.
The advocate also objected to Ramani’s use of the word “predator” while referring to Akbar, and asked the journalist to “open a dictionary” to check its meaning. “Many people in positions of hierarchy are more powerful but you can’t call them a predator,” Luthra said. “There are many words to describe a junior-senior relationship. You cannot turn around and say that you are calling a person media’s biggest predator.”
The court will further hear the matter on January 23.
During the last hearing too, Luthra had said that she was shocked by how Ramani called Akbar a predator with the “power of pen”. “I am shocked and scandalised,” she said. “I’m completely devastated by this that someone can call someone a predator with so much ease.”
After Ramani had identified Akbar as the editor during the #MeToo movement in 2018, around 20 more women came forward and 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 2019, 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 2020 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 Ravindra Kumar Pandey.