#MeToo: Delhi Court acquits Priya Ramani in M.J. Akbar criminal defamation case

Sushree Mohanty

Delhi’s Rouse Avenue Court acquitted Priya Ramani in a criminal defamation charge filed against her by the former Union Minister M.J. Akbar, citing the grounds that “right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of the right to dignity.”

The case was filed against Ramani by the Union Minister after she accused him of sexual harassment during the nationwide protest of #MeToo campaign.

The judgement was delivered by Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey after it reserved the pronouncement on February 1.

The said pronouncement is a significant one and comes in the aftermath of one of India’s most prominent #MeToo cases, which saw a few women come out hurling similar accusations against the journalist. 

The court was of the opinion that even a man who is holding such a powerful position in society can be a sexual harasser and that no evidence submitted so far could make out a case against Ramani. 

Both Priya Ramani and M.J. Akbar was present before the court at the time of the judgement delivery. 

“Woman has the right to express her grievances even after decades…shameful that such crimes against women are taking place in this country where the Mahabharata has taken place.”, the court noted.

The court likewise alluded to an episode from Ramayana where the Jatayu, a mythical bird came “to rescue of Devi Sita.”

The decision was at first scheduled to be delivered on February 10.  However, the esteemed Justice rescheduled the pronouncement date to February 17, 2021, citing the reasons that he received the additional submissions from either party at a delayed date.

The court while reserving its judgement permitted the parties to document additional statements within a time frame of four days.

Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra appeared on behalf of Mr. MJ Akbar whereas Senior Advocate Rebecca John was the legal counsel for Ms. Priya Ramani. 

Ramani, in her complaint, had accused MJ Akbar had sexually harassed her  in December 1993, when she was called to The Oberoi, Mumbai for a prospective job interview.

Ramani had accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment through a tweet as part of the ‘#MeToo’ campaign, uncovering that the individual referred to as a sexual harasser in a prior article published by her in ‘The Vogue’ was indeed Akbar. 

Subsequently, a criminal defamation case was registered by Akbar against Priya Ramani in a Delhi Court in October 2018, after he was blamed by a few women for a similar offence.

While Ramani argued truth public interest, good faith and public great as her grounds for contention, Akbar denied the meeting Ramani for an interview at the hotel.

Ramani further argued that given the statements of several women against MJ Akbar for his crimes, there was no proof on his part that could justify that Ramani had defamed or disrespected her with malicious intent.

MJ Akbar refuted the charges made by Ramani and stated that they “stink of bad faith” and were nothing but malicious and “fabricated non-events”.

Additionally, it was presented that without any formal registration of complaint to any court or authority, Akbar cannot be subjected to an online media trial after almost thirty years, without the exercise of any due consideration.

The court also noted the drawbacks that lie in the Vishaka Guidelines and discussed the predominance of deliberate abuse of force or power in the work environment. 

“The social stigma attached to the allegations…society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims,” the judge stated.

The court held that the substance of a tweet Ramani posted before Akbar’s resignation plea was false and consequently abusive. Ramani submitted the tweet as an “honest mistake” and the court acknowledged her statement of regret.“Indian women only require equality, the court stated before passing the order.

Read more: MJ Akbar in defamation case: Priya Ramani had no proof for accusation