Yesterday, a Delhi court acquitted Priya Ramani in the defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar in 2018. The judgment provided relief to Priya Ramani and is being hailed as a victory for women who suffered sexual harassment in their workplace.
In 2017, Priya Ramani had written an article for Vogue India in which she accused her unnamed past ‘boss’ for allegedly attempting to sexually harass her. She had written this after the #MeToo movement in the United States led to the arrest and conviction of former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein for his sex crimes on women. The first part of her article referred to her own experience, while the second part of the article referred to other cases of sexual harassment of women in their workplace.
When the #MeToo movement gathered steam in India in 2018, Priya Ramani posted a tweet saying that the article that she had written in Vogue India referred to MJ Akbar. In the tweet (which has been deleted), she had written, “I began this piece [referring to Vogue India article] with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator maybe they’ll share.”
After several women came out with their stories of sexual harassment in the hands of MJ Akbar, he resigned as the Minister of State for External Affairs on 17 October 2018. He then filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani.
MJ Akbar’s complaint:
A summary of MJ Akbar’s complaint has been reproduced from the court order below:
- It is contended that complainant was defamed by the accused Priya Ramani by publication of tweets and article published as well as distributed at her behest.
- It is further contended by the complainant that accused had made false, derogatory and malicious imputations against complainant M.J Akbar in order to defame the complainant with sole ulterior motive of maligning his reputation and his political standing, in furtherance of her own vested interest and underlying agenda.
- It is further contended that defamatory publication made by the accused, by her design, been circulated, through electronic and print media but not limited to the Vogue Magazine, Twitter, Livemint, The Washington Post, Firstpost etc.
- It is further contended by the complainant that allegation as mentioned in document Ex. CW1/8 and Ex. CW1/9 were allegedly related to the incident occurred more than two decades back and accused herself admitted in her publication that complainant did not ‘do’ anything to her and further, accused Priya Ramani also did not lodge any complaint to any lawful authority which reflect that the defamatory article and publication were made and published with intention to malign the reputation of complainant.
- It is further contended that the publication of tweet and article Ex. CW1/8, Ex. CW1/9, Ex. CW1/10 and Ex. CW1/11 is not disputed by the accused Priya Ramani.
- It is argued and contended by the complainant that complainant is a man of stellar and impeccable reputation and he proved by examining himself as well as by examining witnesses CW2 to CW5 regarding the same.
- Complainant contended that accused Priya Ramani committed the offence of defamation and took false defence and alternative defence and produced inadmissible evidence, hearsay evidence and irrelevant evidence in support of her false defence and on the other hand complainant duly proved the defamatory publication as published by the accused, the stellar reputation of the complainant and defamation caused by the publication of the accused to the complainant, so accused is liable to be convicted for commission of offence of defamation as punishable U/s 500 IPC.
Delhi Court’s judgment:
In his judgment, Judge Ravindar Kumar Pandey concluded that the “case of complainant regarding commission of offence punishable U/s 500 IPC against the accused Priya Ramani is not proved and she is acquitted for the same.”
A brief snippet of the court’s judgment is reproduced below:
- The Court accepts the contention of the accused and the possibility of defence of the accused that she disclosed the truth regarding the incident of sexual harassment against her at the Oberoi Hotel, Bombay in December 1993 on the basis of testimony of accused DW1 and its corroboration by the testimony of DW2 Niloufer Venkatraman.
- The Court also accepts the contention of the accused that complainant is not a man of stellar reputation on the basis of testimony of accused DW1 and testimony of DW3 Ghazala Wahab.
- It cannot be ignored that most of the time, the offence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse committed in closed doors or privately. Sometimes the victims herself does not understand what is happening to them or what is happening to them is wrong. Despite how well respected some persons are in the society, they in their personal lives, could show extreme cruelty to the females.
- The Court takes consideration of the systematic abuse at the workplace due to lack of the mechanism to redress the grievance of sexual harassment at the time of the incident of sexual harassment against the accused Priya Ramani and witness Ghazala Wahab prior to the issuance of Vishaka Guidelines by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and enactment of The Sexual Harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, or their option to not lodge the complaint of sexual harassment due to the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment of women.
- The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implications on victims. The society should understand that an abusive person is just like rest of the other person and he too has family and friends. He can also be well respected person of the society. The victims of the sexual abuse do not even speak a word about abuse for many years because sometimes she herself has no idea that she is a victim of abuse. The victim may keep believing that she is at fault and victim may live with that shame for years or for decades. Most of the women who suffer abuse do not speak up about it or against it for simple reason “The Shame” or the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment and abuse.
- The sexual abuse, if committed against woman, takes away her dignity and her self-confidence. The attack on the character of sex abuser or offender by sex abuse victim, is the reaction of self-defence after the mental trauma suffered by the victim regarding the shame attached with the crime committed against her.
- The woman cannot be punished for raising voice against the sex abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation as the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in Indian Constitution under article 21 and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under article 14 of the Constitution. The woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.