MJ Akbar's defamation case against Priya Ramani: Witnesses sing praises of ex-editor, say his image 'shattered' after 'false' allegations

Two witnesses, appearing in support of former Union minister and ex-editor MJ Akbar on Wednesday in a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, claimed that her allegations during the #MeToo movement had caused damage to the former journalist and former minister of state's reputation.

The witnesses, Tapan Chaki and Sunil Gujral, deposed in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal. Chaki began his statement saying that he has known Akbar for over 30 years and was a contributor for publications like The Statesman, The Junior Statesman, Onlooker, and The Telegraph. "I have the highest regard for Akbar, both as a man and a journalist... I was extremely shocked and shattered on reading the tweets by Priya Ramani. I have known Mr Akbar all these years and there was never any occasion where anybody ever even mentioned anything remotely resembling such allegations," Bar and Bench quoted him as saying.

He further claimed that Ramani's tweets had caused "enormous damage" to Akbar's reputation. "The tweets and publication damaged his reputation immensely amongst members of the public. In my estimation, it affected his reputation gravely and adversely," he said.

 MJ Akbars defamation case against Priya Ramani: Witnesses sing praises of ex-editor, say his image shattered after false allegations

File photos of MJ Akbar and Priya Ramani.

Gujral, who told the court that he met Akbar when he was the editor of Sunday magazine, said that Ramani's tweets had "tarnished" Akbar's image.

Both Chaki and Gujral claimed that they hadn't read any tweet or article by other women, including Harender Baweja, Ghazala Wahab, Prerna Singh Bindra, Kadambari Wade, who have accused Akbar of sexual misconduct.

On Monday, Veenu Sandal another witness appearing in support of  Akbar, told that none of the colleagues who worked with her ever hinted at any inappropriate behaviour on his part as alleged by Ramani. Sandal, who wrote astrology and tarot card-related columns for Asian Age between 1994 to 2009 when Akbar was the editor, told the court "There was not a thing remotely similar to the allegations" levelled by Ramani against Akbar.

She told the court that Ramani's allegations had damaged Akbar's reputation and people who knew of her association with him were asking various questions about the matter.

During his cross-examination, which ended on 6 July, Akbar told the court it was wrong to suggest that Ramani's articles and tweets were meant to raise awareness regarding the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.

He added, "It is also wrong to suggest that Ramani's disclosures in her tweets and articles relating to me were true and made in good faith for public interest and for public good."

Claiming that he had no intention to target Ramani by filing a defamation case in the matter against her, he said, "It is wrong to say that present complaint I filed is false and without merit and that I have been selective in filing this complaint against Priya Ramani in order to target her."

Ramani had on 10 April pleaded not guilty before the court and claimed trial after the court framed defamation charges against her on a criminal complaint of Akbar.

History of the case

In a 2018 Vogue article, Ramani, without naming Akbar, had described how Akbar called her to his room in a plush Mumbai hotel and asked her to sit on the bed. She later said on Twitter that she never named Akbar in the story because he didn’t “do” anything.

Akbar resigned from the Union Cabinet on 17 October, 2018, saying that it was "appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity". He later filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani. After the court summonsed Ramani in the case, she tweeted that it was time to tell "our side of the story."

In February, Ramani was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000. The Editors' Guild of India has suspended Akbar from membership till the defamation case came to its logical conclusion.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 17, 2019 17:33:13 IST