New Delhi: M.J. Akbar, the former union minister of state for external affairs, has continued to deny ever calling fellow journalist Priya Ramani to his hotel room, where she alleges he sexually harassed her over 25 years ago under the pretence of a job interview.
Akbar, who filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani in October last year, was being cross-examined in the case at the Rouse Avenue district court complex Monday.
Ramani’s defence strategy
Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John did everything within her legal power to recreate the night in December 1993 when the alleged incident of harassment took place. However, Akbar denied every detail recounted by the lawyer.
“I did not receive any phone call from the reception from Priya Ramani on that day, and it is also wrong to say that I called Ms Ramani to my room or that she was hesitant, but I insisted,” the former newspaper editor said.
Akbar also denied that the conversation was “more personal than professional at his insistence”, that he “asked her if she was married”, that he “sang Hindi songs” when Ramani confirmed that she did like music, or that he “offered her an alcoholic beverage, which she refused”.
He said he “could not recall if Priya Ramani asked for a transfer to the Asian Age Bombay office after ten days of joining the Delhi branch”.
“She would have moved to Bombay with the permission of the editor, if it did happen,” Akbar said, reiterating that “these matters took place 25-30 years ago” to justify his memory lapses.
Ramani’s defence was built to establish three facts in court, the first being her story, which was told through a series of suggestions by her counsel John, despite repeated objections from Akbar’s counsel.
The second was to ascertain that only a part of Ramani’s 2017 Vogue article pertained to Akbar, while the rest were reference to other women’s experiences with their bosses under the #MeToo movement. The third was to substantiate “a pattern of behaviour by Akbar, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment”, John told additional chief metropolitan magistrate Samar Vishal.
To do this, the former editor was shown a series of tweets by his former female colleagues who spoke out against him on social media — Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Harinder Baweja, Kadambari M. Wade, and Shutapa Paul.
Akbar admitted that he had previously seen Wahab and Baweja’s tweets, but not those of Wade or Raha. He also admitted to having read Ghazala Wahab’s testimonial in The Wire.
On Majlie de Puy Kamp’s allegations
Akbar confirmed that Majlie de Puy Kamp, another woman who accused him of sexual harassment, was an intern at The Asian Age between 2006 and 2007, when he ran the paper. He said he had not read Kamp’s account of sexual harassment published by the Huffington Post, but also admitted to receiving an email from her father — he said he “cannot confirm the contents of the email”.
“I can truly say that there was absolutely no question of harassment of the lady. I recall there might have been a mention of some misunderstanding, which was resolved,” he added.
The matter has been adjourned to 6 July, when the court reconvenes after its summer break.