Testifying in the defamation suit filed against her by former Union Minister MJ Akbar, journalist Priya Ramani stated, "Sexual harassment can take any form. It can be physical or verbal. By saying that he didn't "do" anything, I was honestly disclosing that there was no overt act but that didn't excuse Mr Akbar's sexually coloured behaviour."
Ramani was taking the stand on 7 September 2019 as the first defence witness in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal. Her testimony began with her account of the series of events that transpired in 1993 when Akbar had allegedly asked her to go up to his room at The Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai for a job interview.
She added in her statement that over the years, her colleagues had shared significantly worse stories of their experiences with Akbar and her tweet during the #MeToo campaign was to "highlight the fact that we normalise sexual misconduct and unless it results in physical assult, we do not take it seriously."
I used the word 'predator' to emphasize and highlight the difference in age, influence and power between Mr Akbar and myself. I was a young journalist, he was a famous Editor, 20 years older than me who called me to his bedroom in a hotel for a job interview, Ramani.
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) September 7, 2019
"A predator is more powerful than his prey," the journalist said. "I used the word 'predator' to emphasise and highlight the difference in age, influence and power between Mr Akbar and myself. I was a young journalist, he was a famous Editor, 20 years older than me who called me to his bedroom in a hotel for a job interview." Recounting the events on the evening in 1993, she said according to a Bar and Bench tweet, "This is not what I expected. I thought the interview would be in the coffee shop or in the lobby. But I was 23. I didn't have the confidence to say "no, I'll wait for you in the lobby." During the interview, the journalist noted that she was asked several "inappropriate personal questions" and feeling unnerved, she had decided "never be alone with him in a room [with him] ever again."
This is not what I expected. I thought the interview would be in the coffee shop or in the lobby. But I was 23. I didn't have the confidence to say "no, I'll wait for you in the lobby", Ramani. — Bar & Bench (@barandbench) September 7, 2019
Akbar, the former Minister of State for External Affairs had filed a defamation case against Ramani for accusing him of sexual misconduct in 2018. He resigned from the Union Cabinet on 17 October 2018.
Ramani had accused Akbar of engaging in inappropriate behaviour around 20 years ago when he was a journalist. Her account first appeared in Vogue in 2017 in an article titled To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world which began with her own experiences but did not name Akbar. It was only after a year, when the #MeToo movement was raging in India that she removed 'the cloak of anonymity' and revealed his name.
Speaking about the article she said, "Vogue's Feature's Editor called me and asked me if I could write an article about the behaviour of male bosses in the context of the American #MeToo movement and the allegations against Harvey Weinstein."
"The article ranged from calling women to hotel room and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and rape," she continued, "While researching the article I couldn't help but remember my personal story of my first male boss."
After the #MeToo movement went under way in 2018, multiple women came out with allegations of sexual misconduct against Akbar. "Seeing all these women, I felt compelled to speak up about my experience with Mr MJ Akbar in 1993 and so I removed the anonymity that I had given Mr Akbar in my Vogue article and named him as the editor who had sexually harassed me," Ramani added.
Akbar had previously termed the accusations "false, fabricated and deeply distressing" and stated that he was taking appropriate legal action against them.
In her testimony on 7 September, Ramani stated that she found out through media reports that Akbar had filed a criminal defamation case against her and that on 16 October, 2018 she read that "20 women who had worked at the Asian Age over the years had written a statement saying they were willing to testify on my behalf."
At an earlier hearing on 23 August, 2019, Ramani told a Delhi court that the 'ex-Union minister MJ Akbar had filed a "false and malicious case" against her to create a "chilling effect"' among those women who had spoken up about the sexual harassment they faced at his hands.
A report in The News Minute added that according to Bar and Bench, the senior journalist said in her deposition that the tweet about her #MeToo story did in fact pertain to Akbar and was “not malafide, in bad faith, deeply offensive, maligning and spun out of lies.”
"The complainant has filed a false case against me. Through his testimony he feigned ignorance about my truth and my story," she said.
The proceedings were adjourned for the day and the matter will be taken up next on Monday, 9 September.
With inputs from Asian News International
Updated Date: Sep 07, 2019 17:01:43 IST