Former Union minister MJ Akbar’s lawyer on Thursday told a Delhi court that journalist Priya Ramani made the allegations of sexual misconduct against him after he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, reported Bar and Bench. He further suggested that Ramani could have done it earlier.

“He became a BJP member in 2014... then became an MP... then for the first time she made the allegations,” senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing Akbar, said. Akbar joined the Union Cabinet in 2016.

Luthra made the submissions as 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.

Senior advocate Luthra also countered Ramani’s claims that there was no grievance redressal mechanism where she could have made the allegations against the former minister.

“She [Ramani] was aware of Vishakha guidelines in 1996, 1997,” she added. “These questions are being put to her because she alleged that there was no redressal mechanism. If you had a grievance, there was a mechanism since 1860.” The Vishaka Guidelines were a set of procedural guidelines for use in India in cases of sexual harassment. It was superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

During the hearing, the senior advocate pointed out that Ramani was a journalist and aware of the laws. “She knew Vishakha, she would have known Rupan Deol because she’s a journalist.” Rupan Deol Bajaj was an Indian Administrative Service officer who had accused former Punjab Director General of Police KPS Gill of harassment. The case had garnered attention from the media and at the end, Gill was held guilty.

Luthra said that Ramani could have also spoken out after the 2016 Delhi gangrape. “These lies have left me defending my reputation in the last few years,” Luthra said on behlaf of Akbar. “It is unpardonable.. I wonder at what kind of cost has it come to you. You have damaged a person’s 50 years of reputation.”

Akbar’s lawyer also told the court that a criminal case should be made out against Ramani for deleting her Twitter account, which had primary evidence. “She knows a criminal complaint is pending against her,” she said. “These are all tweets. They were all primary evidence. Can she destroy evidence.. another criminal case can be made out.”

Luthra said that she would have wanted to cross-examine Ramani on her tweets. On court’s question if the tweets were deleted before the cross-examination, Luthra said it was but she did not know the exact date. She said that the tweets showed that Akbar’s reputation was impeccable but took a beating after Ramani’s tweets.

She then asked the court to take cognisance of the matter. She said the deletion spoke volume about Ramani’s conduct.

Luthra alleged that Ramani’s allegations were an act to intentionally malign and that there was “not a whisper of good faith and public interest”. “First she says first four paragraphs [of a Vogue article written by Ramani] are about her,” she said. “But then talks about “shared experience”. Whom did she interview? This has to be before the cause of action. She says it’s my story.. what is she trying? Every sentence when examined is contradictory to the next.”

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.

The court will continue hearing the case on January 23 when Luthra will finish her arguments. During the last hearing, Akbar had told the court that 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.

The case

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.