'Felt responsibility to remove cloak of anonymity': Journalist Priya Ramani on naming MJ Akbar

Ramani on Tuesday said she felt compelled to speak after seeing women who shared their experiences of having experienced inappropriate behaviour.

FP Staff September 08, 2020 19:10:05 IST
'Felt responsibility to remove cloak of anonymity': Journalist Priya Ramani on naming MJ Akbar

Journalist Priya Ramani told a Delhi court on Tuesday that she decided to name former Union minister and editor MJ Akbar in the context of the #MeToo movement as she "felt a responsibility to remove the cloak of anonymity."

Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate began hearing MJ Akbar's criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani on Tuesday with senior advocate Rebecca John making her final submissions on behalf of Ramani.

Quoting Ramani during the hearing, John said, "I spoke the truth in public interest...I was deliberately targeted to divert attention from the other serious allegations against MJ Akbar," she was quoted as stating in court by Bar & Bench.

Ramani, in an article in Vogue on 12 October 2017, had written about having faced inappropriate behaviour from a male boss, but had not named Akbar then. Nearly a year later, after the #MeToo movement began on Twitter, she said in a tweet that an incident at the beginning of her article was about the former Union minister. After her statement, twenty women came forward describing his behaviour and condemning his sexual advances.

During the court hearing on Tuesday, Ramani said she felt compelled to speak after seeing women who shared their experiences of having experienced inappropriate behaviour.

Significantly, LiveLaw quoted Ramani's lawyer Rebecca John as saying during the hearing, "From the very beginning, she made it clear that she only began her article with Akbar story, and not the entire article is about him." She pointed out that the title of the Vogue article "To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world" is in plural, indicating that she was referring to multiple male bosses, as well as multiple women.

The lawyer also made a reference to an article in Firstpost which listed all the woman who had made allegations against Akbar at the time. She noted that Akbar has stated that he has read the article.

"There is a tacit admission without any refutation that this article carried disclosures of 14 women. It is not an evidence of stellar reputation," she said.

John further said during her arguments in court, "I read Ghazala Wahab's experience. Women, at that time, were told to keep silent. It was a different world in 1993. I cannot say with confidence that that was a fair world. It took us all a lot of time to fight and establish out battles."

Responding to allegations that Ramani made the allegations due to political motives, John said, as quoted by Bar & Bench, "I (Ramani) didn't do it for political motives. But even if I take the allegation at the highest, as per them, I waited for two years since he joined the party to make the allegation. My accusations have no connection with his political journey."

John noted, "She (Ramani) has made a detailed account on oath about what happened to her in 1993...Ramani was just 23 years old, it was her first job interview. She was silent, uncomfortable, due to her young age didn't know how to turn down Akbar's overtures."

The lawyer also pointed out that before Ramani, several women had spoken about their experiences with Akbar, including Ghazala Wahab, Shonali Khullar Shroff, Prerna Bhindra, etc. "These are women at responsible positions, speaking responsibly," she said.

Ramani, speaking futher about why she chose to name Akbar, said, "It was important and necessary for women to speak up. Women are taught that silence is a virtue.. this case has come at a great personal cost. I have nothing to gain.. by keeping silence I could have avoided (at lot of trouble). But that would not have been right."

The court has adjourned the case, and the matter will be heard again on 14 September.

In the previous hearing, John had said that as per law, it is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person if it is for the public good.

“A true imputation made in the public good is not defamation... it is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another when it is made in good faith for the protection of his or other's interest,” she told the court during a virtual hearing.

Akbar had earlier told the court that Ramani had defamed him by using adjectives such as "media's biggest predator" against him that harmed his reputation.

Akbar has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment against the women who came forward during the #MeToo campaign against him.

With inputs from PTI

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