After almost three years of legal hardships and public dissection, the Delhi Court acquitted Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed against her by former Union Minister MJ Akbar. The Court said, “Women have the right to put her grievance even after decades” and that “Women can’t be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse by complaints claiming defamation”.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey delivered the judgement in an open court in the presence of both parties. While senior advocate Geeta Luthra represented MJ Akbar, senior advocate Rebecca John represented Priya Ramani. While hearing the various “victims” of MJ Akbar, the Court accepted that he was not a man of stellar reputation, especially after journalist Ghazala Wahab’s testimony.
Noting that sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence, the Court said that there is a social stigma attached to the claims. “It can't be ignored that most sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors. Most of the women who suffer abuse can’t often speak up due to stigma and attack on their character,” the order said, adding, “Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of the right to dignity”.
Amidst the #MeToo movement in 2018, journalist Priya Rami had accused the Rajya Sabha MP of sexual misconduct. She tweeted a 2017 article she wrote for Vogue India, adding, “I began this piece 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.” Priya had explained that her ordeal took place around 20 years ago when Akbar headed Asian Age. She said that he had called her to his hotel room for a job interview and misbehaved with her. Following the tweet, Akbar filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani, after which almost 20 women signed a plea stating that Akbar had sexually harassed them and that they deserved to be heard in the defamation case.
The court was supposed to have pronounced its decision on February 10 2021, but the judge said that he needed more time to prepare the order following the delay in written submissions for the case. Now, with the judgement, many have come forward to claim that justice has been served. Priya Ramani’s acquittal has been welcomed among different groups, claiming that this is a collective victory. Others claim that this verdict will empower women to speak up about the harassment they have faced regardless of the number of years that have passed, and to some, it restores faith in the judicial system.