Journalist Priya Ramani on Wednesday said that she felt vindicated on behalf of all the women who have spoken out against sexual harassment, after a court in Delhi found her not guilty of defaming Union minister MJ Akbar in a landmark judgement. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement in India in 2018.
“Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves,” a beaming Ramani told reporters outside the chamber in Rouse Avenue Court, minutes after the verdict. “This matter has been about women, it hasn’t been about me. I happened to represent all the women who spoke up...the women who spoke up before me and the women who spoke up after me.”
“It feels amazing, truly does.”
Speaking specifically on the impact of the judgement on the #MeToo movement, Ramani said that the victory will encourage more women to speak up and it will make “powerful men think twice before they take victims to court”.
“Don’t forget I was the accused in this case and I was accused just for speaking up,” she added.
Ramani was the first to accuse Akbar of harassment, spurring more than 20 women to come forward and label similar accusations against him during his career as a senior editor of various publications. A few days later, Akbar resigned from his post as a Union minister in 2018, becoming one of the most influential men to be called out in India’s #MeToo movement at the time.
Akbar had filed a defamation case against Ramani in October 2018, denying the allegations as “false, baseless and wild”. Throughout the hearing, which went on for over two years, Akbar’s counsel claimed that Ramani’s allegations were defamatory, and lowered his reputation.
However, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey on Wednesday found that Akbar had failed to prove his case, observing that “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser,” and that the “right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity”.
The court also said that Ramani’s revelations were made in the “interest of anti-sexual harassment at workplace” and that it took into consideration “systematic abuse at workplace”. The judge held that sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence.
Meanwhile, her counsel Rebecca John said that this was the most important case of her career. “It was very very difficult,” John told Bar and Bench. “But in that sense, when you fight powerful people and you have just truth on your side, the journey becomes very very relevant to you personally, and I think this was the most important case of my life.”
John added that the case was at once about reputation, sexual harassment and truth which was said in public interest.
“I think in one sense, the fact that it [the sexual harassment revelation] was made on the #MeToo platform and Priya [Ramani] repeatedly said that it gave me the courage to come out and speak because other women were speaking...I think this judgement validates that,” John said.
The judgement is also pivotal moment for the #MeToo movement in India, which began in 2018 when women from all walks of life stormed social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
A timeline of the case from October 2018
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 October 2018.
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. 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.