A little history lesson. Priya Ramani is an Indian journalist, writer, and editor who began working at The Asian Age in 1994 and worked for Reuters, Elle, India Today, Cosmopolitan magazine, Mint Lounge, Livemint, The Indian Express, Vogue India, and serves as an editorial board member of Article 14. In October 2018, Ramani accused M.J. Akbar, former Union minister and journalist, of sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement. This was followed by several other accusations of sexual misconduct against Akbar. Soon after that Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani and resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs, thereby beginning Ramani’s battle against patriarchy.
According to New York Times, Akbar and his 97 lawyers brought the case against Priya Ramani for publicly accusing him of harassment dating back to a time when he was prominent newspaper editor. It was described as an example of a SLAPP lawsuit and “a way to drag the women to court and intimidate them until they withdraw”. Ramani pleaded not guilty despite the danger of being sentenced to prison for up to two years. In February 2019, Ramani was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs. 10,000. Senior Advocate Rebecca John represented Ramani and told the court, “A true imputation made in the public good is not defamation… it is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another when it is made in goodat faith for the protection of his or other’s interest.” Then in October 2020, the case was transferred from one court to another and then back to the first court. In November 2020, Ramani and Akbar was requested to settle the case. John informed the court on behalf of Ramani that there was no chance of settlement. Then the judges changed causing the whole thing to restart in front of the new judge.
In December 2020, Ramani alleged in court through John that Akbar had approached the court with unclean hands in his criminal defamation against her. John told the court that 15 women had accused Akbar of sexual harassment by the time Akbar had filed the case against Ramani in October 2018 and Akbar “played a fraud” by failing to mention the other accusations of sexual harassment against him when he filed and claimed that only Ramani’s statement had defamed him. That month, Akbar’s counsel apparently reviewed Ramani’s 2017 Vogue article and told the court that, “People on responsible position like journalists should not make such allegations on social media. They should come to court instead.” Then Akbar went onto deny ever meeting Ramani in the hotel where she alleged the sexual harassment had happened. In January 2021, Luthra stated in court that “without any investigation or basis”, Ramani had referred to Akbar as “media’s biggest sexual predator”. On January 27, 2021, John made final arguments by saying that Akbar’s statements don’t make any sense and that the testimony of Ghazala Wahab as well as a Firstpost article introduced by Akbar’s legal team that provided details of allegations against Akbar, were relevant support for Ramani’s reference to Akbar as a ‘predator’.
Cut to February 17, 2021 and according to LiveLaw, a Delhi Court has acquitted Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by Akbar. The court observed that,
“Woman has right to put her grievance even after decades. Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self confidence. Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity. The society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims. Article 21 and the right to equality is guaranteed under the Constitution. She has full right to put her case in any platform of her choice. Time has come for our society to understand that sometimes a victim may for years not speak up due to the mental trauma. The woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”
The court has accepted the possibility of defence of accused that she made the disclosure after other women named Akbar as a sexual predator and also accepted that Akbar was not a man of stellar reputation with the help of Ramani’s contention that Akbar’s claim of a stellar reputation was demolished by Ghazala Wahab’s testimony, who was also allegedly sexually abused by Akbar. The judgement was delivered by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Ravindra Kumar Pandey in open court and in the presence of both parties. Ramani reacted to the verdict by saying,
“I feel amazing, I feel vindicated to have my truth accepted in a court of law.”
Ramani’s lawyer Senior Advocate Rebecca John said,
“The defence of truth pleaded by Priya Ramani was vindicated. It’s an amazing judgment, we feel grateful that the court has gone through the evidence so meticulously. The defense had put up a very, very strong rebuttal to the case of the complainant, that defense is upheld.”
Here’s how the internet has reacted to Ramani’s acquittal…
— Anoo Bhuyan (@AnooBhu) February 17, 2021
What a fight #PriyaRamani. The downfall of every sexual predator is the only way forward.
— Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) February 17, 2021
Akbar came flanked by tons of cops but hey, #PriyaRamani had her Army of Women. We stood there fearing the worst, but ready for battle. And now, we can all breathe for just a few minutes at least . Thank you Rebecca John for fighting the good fight pic.twitter.com/I9eKtXTZK4
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) February 17, 2021
— Natasha Badhwar (@natashabadhwar) February 17, 2021
Well done, Priya Ramani, landmark judgement that will set a precedent for many, many other women to raise their voices #PriyaRamani https://t.co/qg2GfDkS0a
— sonia singh (@soniandtv) February 17, 2021
The bar has been lowered to such an extent that we are celebrating what was a given. #PriyaRamani battle on. Your fight will inspire many more survivors to seek justice and remain a reminder for offenders.
Power and solidarity to you.
— Sanghamitra C (@thesanghamitra) February 17, 2021
I am grateful to the Indian Courts. The Judges.
All the people of all genders will now be empowered to identify and out their molesters. This has been a battle that Priya Ramani took on for all of us. For our children.
She is my Hero. Our hero. #PriyaRamani
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) February 17, 2021
More power to #PriyaRamani!! 🥳
The energy and grit it took is not easy. And I can’t help thinking that this is like a sexual harassment case in which he is proven guilty but doesn’t go to jail. https://t.co/ZVn7RH2VTE
— Rohini Mohan (@rohini_mohan) February 17, 2021
As we celebrate this verdict in #PriyaRamani case, let’s take a moment to be grateful to the fierce activism of everyone from Bhanwari Devi to Raya Sarkar that laid the foundations for the #MeToo movt in India at great personal costs. https://t.co/2cKkSvXhUi
— Shalini (@ShaliniNair13) February 17, 2021
— Deepal.Trivedi (@DeepalTrevedie) February 17, 2021
Applause and respect for Becky John, one of the heroines we love and need!
And time to celebrate #PriyaRamani‘s win — but also to make sure that women and other victims can speak the truth of their experiences without fear of crim def cases or silencing. pic.twitter.com/1HOtt7uewa
— Nilanjana Roy (@nilanjanaroy) February 17, 2021
Incredible news. Tears in my eyes. Seeing any woman get justice gives hope to all of us. #PriyaRamani has been a warrior. What a great piece of news.
— Mahima Kukreja 🌱🌈✊🏽 (@AGirlOfHerWords) February 17, 2021
— Meghna Pant (@MeghnaPant) February 17, 2021
Saying that this is a landmark judgement is both apt and an understatement. The time it has taken to bring this case to a close might have reduced its magnitude in the public eye. But this is a journalist’s fight against a former Minister of State for External Affairs that we are talking about. This is huge and congratulations are in order for Ramani and John for standing with what’s right and fighting all the lies that were being peddled against them. The fight against patriarchy, in general, is a long way from coming to an end though. However, I am sure that Ramani’s acquittal and the court’s words will motivate more women to come forward with their truth and urge the society we live in to make itself a safer place for all, especially women.
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Cover image courtesy: Natasha Badhwar/Twitter