Tuesday, 5 July, 2022
HomeIndiaGovernanceMJ Akbar sues Priya Ramani for criminal defamation over sexual harassment allegations

MJ Akbar sues Priya Ramani for criminal defamation over sexual harassment allegations

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M.J. Akbar’s plea accuses Priya Ramani of ‘willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defaming the complainant’.

New Delhi: Union minister and veteran journalist M.J. Akbar has filed a criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani after she and 13 other former colleagues accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

In his plea, Akbar has said her accusations and a piece she wrote about their first encounter are a “figment of her imagination”.

In a write-up for Vogue last year, Ramani had talked about an editor who had invited her to his Mumbai hotel room for a job interview two decades ago, offered her drinks, asked her to sit beside him on the bed, and sung for her.

She didn’t identify the man in the article, which was written in October 2017, when the global MeToo movement had just begun.

It was only recently, on 8 October, that she identified Akbar as scores of women took to social media for a fresh wave of MeToo allegations against journalists and members of the entertainment industry.

In her tweet, Ramani said she hadn’t named him earlier “because he didn’t do anything”. Her claim got more women to go public with the alleged harassment they had faced at the hands of Akbar.

Also read: MJ Akbar won’t resign, calls all #MeToo allegations political vendetta

‘Cases against other accusers to follow’

Akbar filed the criminal defamation case at the Patiala House district court in Delhi a day after he returned to the country from an official trip to Nigeria.

Speaking to ThePrint, a member of his legal team said similar cases will follow against others who had made allegations against Akbar on social media.

His complaint accuses Ramani of “…willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defaming the complainant, on wholly and completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous grounds… thereby harming the goodwill and reputation of the complainant, within the political fraternity, media, friends, family, colleagues and in society at large”.

Akbar said Ramani’s write-up and subsequent tweets — among other things, she identified him as “the media’s biggest sexual predator” — had the sole motive of maligning his reputation and political standing in “furtherance of her own vested interests and underlying agenda”.

Also read: Modi govt left with little wiggle room as #MeToo allegations stack up against MJ Akbar

It then cites Ramani’s “didn’t ‘do’ anything” claim to question the underlying allegations.

Akbar’s defence

Hours after landing in Delhi from an official tour to Africa, Akbar in a statement said that “the allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice”.

“I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad,” he added.

Advocate Sandeep Kapur, a partner with Karanjawala & Co, confirmed that the firm will be representing Akbar in the criminal defamation matter.

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  1. One thing is clear as day light — Akbar’s FUTURE IS DECIDED. It is going to be a BLANK. The proverbial die has been cast.

    Whether he resigns now or not is immaterial; his audacious dream of one day becoming India’s full fledged Foreign Minister is over. Firstly, the BJP is not going to win; secondly, this episode will have blown up by then to such huge proportions that to give a “diplomatic” assignment to one who has so widely been spoken of being “so crass” will be impudent even by BJP standards.

    He cannot go back to journalism with this reputation. That profession is infested with women and they will all insist that all cabins be made fully of glass, and powerful and permanent cordless microphones be attached to the person of this new incumbent.

    All that Mr Akbar can do now, may God give him a long life, is to play with dogs. There were some long shots of his house on TV and I could see some wagging tails. Dogs are sweet animals.

    Or, Mr Akbar can put his writing skills to some use and pen a book titled, WHY IS BIG BROTHER ALWAYS WATCHING?

  2. If there is such a thing as perception in public life, consider how the optics of this case are playing out. The Hindu and the Indian Express have editorially asked Mr Akbar to step down, facilitating the sort of impartial probe Minister Smt Maneka Gandhi had promised for all Me Too victims. People have commented how the minister will be represented by a firm that has 97 lawyers on its rolls. Ms Priya Ramani would struggle to pay her legal fees. The average citizen believes the fourteen or so women who have spoken out about abuse and misbehaviour spanning a long period of time. They have nothing in common, least of all a political agenda that has been activated by the approaching general election, beyond the fact that they worked in newspapers where he was the editor. What is on display will play out like David vs Goliath. Women especially, if they have voting preferences that are at least tangentially affected by their gender, will be deeply disappointed by how this is playing out. How dare you speak out, why don’t you just grin and bear it, as countless women have in the past, is the domineering message that is being sent out. What makes this response all the more inexplicable is the fact that Mr Akbar cannot influence the outcome in a single – out of 543 – constituency.

  3. I don’t know if it was legally feasible or not, but it would have been better if Akbar had filed a COMPOSITE defamation case making all the women who have written against him as equal respondents. After all, they ALL have sullied his image and not Ms Ramani alone.

    I say “better”, that is from a common man’s perspective, like mine. Because by picking on one woman in this complaint and not all, an ordinary reader like me will get the impression that even Mr Akbar is indirectly admitting that there may be SOME TRUTH in other women’s stories but this one is an out-and-out lie.

    That does not serve his purpose of salvaging his reputation one bit.

    • You have raised an important point, Sanjivji. The arrow has left the quiver. It must now slay not just one accuser, but all of them, including some others who may come forward. The filing of a suit for criminal defamation raises the stakes and the pitch. A much higher standard of proof, enhanced intellectual rigour. 2. In law, there are two possible outcomes. Mr Akbar is innocent, he did not misbehave with junior lady colleagues, for reasons best known to them, they have come together to damage his reputation. Alternatively, the women are speaking the truth. Having moved from issues of ethics, morality, good behaviour, this is now a criminal matter, where someone could go to jail. 3. There is no law of limitation for a criminal act. Apart from the sworn testimonies of the fourteen women, who would be subject to cross examination, there could be other individuals they confided in, immediately or a little later. Perhaps not written records, but there is an e mail trail dating from 2007 in one case. . 4. Smart lawyers can get their client off the hook in such an old case, with little corroborative evidence. However, there would be equally gifted lawyers on the other side, fighting not for high fees but out of moral conviction. May the truth emerge.

  4. Ms Priya Ramani could not only testify in her defence, she could also produce as witnesses the other women who have spoken about how gentleman “ did “ things to them. Several fine lady lawyers would be willing to appear for her, pro bono. The actual trial would keep this issue fresh in people’s minds, unless like the “ Judge who cannot be named “, a gag order is obtained.

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