MJ Akbar defamation case: 'Right of reputation not at the cost of right to dignity,' rules court

Speaking after the verdict, Ramani said that she felt vindicated despite the fact that she, the victim, had to stand up in court as an accused. She thanked her lawyer and all other survivors who had come out in her support during the over two-year-long legal battle

FP Staff February 17, 2021 16:25:51 IST
MJ Akbar defamation case: 'Right of reputation not at the cost of right to dignity,' rules court

File image of journalist Priya Ramani. Image courtesy: Natasha Badhwar

Noting that a person's 'right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity', Delhi's Rouse Avenue court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar.

Akbar had sued Ramani around two years ago after she, apart from at least 20 other women, went public with allegations of sexual assault against the journalist-turned-politician as part of the #MeToo movement in India.

In its judgment, the Delhi court observed that even though Akbar was a man of reputation, a man of high social status can still be a sexual harasser, Bar & Bench reported.

Further, in remarks that are crucial for the #MeToo movement, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar noted that women have the right to put forward their grievances 'even after decades.'

"The woman cannot be punished for raising voice against the sex­abuse 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," the judgment read.

MJ Akbar defamation case Right of reputation not at the cost of right to dignity rules court

READ FULL TEXT OF THE JUDGMENT HERE

FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES ON THE CASE HERE

The judge observed that there are social stigma attached with going public with allegations of sexual assault, adding that the society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims.

Following the judgment, Ramani thanked other survivors of sexual assault who had shown the courage to go public with their allegations, and to those who testified in court against Akbar on her behalf. "I feel vindicated. Despite the fact that it was me, the victim, who had to stand up in court as the accused, I am happy that sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves," she told reporters outside a packed courtroom.

Advocate Rebecca John, who had lead the case on Ramani's behalf, noted that the landmark case was indeed the most important one in her career. Speaking to Bar and Bench, John said, "It was an extremely difficult case. You all saw how difficult it was to get your voice heard in the court... I think when you fight powerful people and you have only truth on your side, the journey becomes very relevant to you personally. I think this is probably the most important case of my career."

Reports from the courtroom describing the scene said that women supporters had turned up in huge numbers to support Ramani, while Akbar was flanked with a formidable police presence. Ramani's supporters burst into applause and offered a standing ovation as John walked over to hug Ramani.

The court had on 1 February reserved the judgment for 10 February after Akbar and Ramani completed their arguments.

However, on 10 February, the court deferred the judgment for 17 February, saying the verdict was not complete since both the parties filed their written submission late.

Ramani had made allegation of sexual misconduct against Akbar in the wake of #MeToo movement in 2018.

Akbar had filed the complaint against Ramani on 15 October, 2018 for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct decades ago.

He resigned as Union minister on 17 October, 2018.

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

Earlier, during the arguments on the case, senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Ramani, said that Akbar should not get any relief as he chose to target Ramani to target other women.

"Why was Akbar not aggrieved by graver allegations made by Ghazala Wahab and Pallavi Gogoi. As charges became graver, Akbar became unsure. Wahab's allegations were of six months of sexual assault and harassment. Akbar opposed Gogoi's statement saying it was not rape but consensual relationship," John said.

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

With inputs from PTI

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