Former Indian minister Mobashar Jawed Akbar loses a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, setting a precedent for other #MeToo cases in the country.
Akbar was accused by the journalist and several other women of alleged “predatory conduct”.
In 2017, an article was written by Ramani in Vogue about the behavior of male bosses in the context of the American #MeToo movement. During her research, she shared that, how her first male boss called her into his hotel room for a job interview. Later, on 8th October 2018, she tweeted that the unnamed boss was MJ Akbar.
After her tweet, more than a dozen women alleged that they had been harassed, sexually assaulted and even raped by him. Akbar strongly denied and described allegations “false” and “baseless”.
A week after the tweet, Akbar sued her for criminal defamation. He denied the incident alleged by the journalist. He said he had not asked her to meet him at the hotel and accused her for using offensive language. He further stated that her tweets became “the basis of articles in Indian and international press”.
“This has adversely affected my public reputation as well as my standing within family and friends,” he added, and that he had filed the case to protect his reputation.
“In 1990s, Mr Akbar was a powerful man, Editor-in-Chief of The Asian Age newspaper, a former MP and former spokesman of the Congress party”, said Ramani and several of the witnesses who testified in court.
They also pointed out that he was in his 40s, had power but the women, he allegedly preyed on, were in their early 20s, having no influence but desperate need to keep their jobs.
“Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence, and right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity”, said Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Pandey.
Akbar’s lawyers questioned Ms. Ramani as to why did she not complain earlier about something that happened in 1993, but the judge ruled that and said, “a woman has the right to raise her grievances even after decades”.
“A woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse”, he added. The judgment by judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey drew praise from many, in particular its emphasis that “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser”.