MJ Akbar vs Priya Ramani case: Delhi Court reserves verdict in criminal defamation suit for 10 Feb
Akbar, a former Union minister, had filed the case against Ramani in October 2018 for 'defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct'
New Delhi: A Delhi Court on Monday reserved for 10 February the verdict in MJ Akbar's criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani for her allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar reserved the judgment after Akbar as well as Ramani completed their arguments.
The court also allowed both the parties to file their written submissions, if any, within five days.
Ramani had made allegation of sexual misconduct against Akbar in the wake of #MeToo movement in 2018.
During the arguments on Monday, 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 was 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.
She said Akbar did not give any reason as to why he chose to file case against Ramani and not others.
"When you pick and choose, one has to say the reason for not choosing others was for X or Y, which was not done in the present case. Akbar went after Ramani because she was a soft and vulnerable target.
"The object is to harass. That is the consequence. Selective prosecution must be deprecated. The prosecution that chooses to target Ramani to target other women should get no relief," she said.
John further refuted Akbar's claim that Ramani's tweet instigated and ignited the first flame when she accused him of sexual misconduct, saying that journalist Wahab tweeted on 6 October, 2018 and after that journalist Shunali Kullar Shroff made the allegations of sexual misconduct.
"I (Ramani) tweeted on 8 October," John said.
The counsel added that Akbar's argument asking phone records, CCTV footage or hotel record of the alleged meeting was of no use because there would be no such evidence since the incident took place 20 years ago.
"They argued I could have brought on record CCTV footage, call records. The burden on me is not of proof beyond ready doubt. Why didn't you (Akbar) disprove the allegations? What stopped you from bringing the hotel records and CCTV footage?
"After 20 years, there will be no phone records, CCTV footage or hotel record. I would have if I could have," she said.
The counsel said that Akbar's argument that by deactivating her Twitter account, Ramani destroyed and tempered with the primary evidence was absurd and fallacious.
"She has not deleted any tweets. Ramani has deactivated Twitter account for personal reasons. I (Ramani) have not deleted. What is the consequences in relation to the complaint against me? Have I denied making these tweets? From the time I was summoned, I have taken on consistent plea with integrity and honesty. I have not feigned ignorance. I don't suffer from memory losses," she said.
John further questioned why Akbar did not move an application seeking to reactivate Ramani's Twitter account.
"Twitter should have proved these tweets but I admitted. No evidence has been destroyed. Whether I deactivate or remain or Twitter, is a private relationship between Twitter and me.
"Did they move a single application asking this court to direct me to reactivate my Twitter account. Very often counsel move applications for presentation of call data records, bank account etc. Did they move any such application? Why is the onus on me," she said.
John further added that if court directs, the Twitter account can be activated even today.
"I reactivated when they asked me to check for corrigendum. I deactivated again. There is not a single direction from court. I have admitted the primary evidence. They had ample time to examine my Twitter account when they filed the case. You didn't work. It's not my fault. I'm not obliged to help you to make a case against me.
"If court directs, it can be activated even today. The account is not the subject matter of this case. Nothing stopped them from asking for preservation of account at the start of the trial," she said, adding that she had a constitutional right to privacy.
She added that the trial was not a fishing and roving inquiry and that even during cross examination, the court did not ask Ramani to reactivate her Twitter account.
Akbar had filed the criminal defamation complaint against Ramani in 15 October, 2018 for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct over two 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.
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.
He has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment against the women who came forward during #MeToo campaign against him.
Over 20 women came up with accounts of the alleged sexual harassment by Akbar while they were working as journalists under him.
He termed the allegations false, fabricated and deeply distressing and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them.
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Tarana Burke is part of a new initiative — called We, As Ourselves — in which three prominent groups are focusing on those survivors, who she says often feel that #MeToo has passed them by.
The Court's judgment, which stated that damage to the accused's reputation cannot be more important than a survivor’s right to dignity and speaking their truth, is an important milestone for India's #MeToo movement.
Amid landmark verdict in Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar case, incremental gains for survivors of sexual harassment
In light of the euphoria surrounding Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar, and what many are hailing as a landmark judgment, it is perhaps important to take stock of exactly what the verdict in favour of Ramani has achieved.