New Delhi: Journalist Priya Ramani told a Delhi court Friday that she spoke the truth in her October 2018 tweets accusing former Union minister M.J. Akbar of sexual harassment, and asserted that she will “lead evidence in her defence”.
Ramani is among a number of women who have accused Akbar of sexual harassment. He later filed a defamation suit against her.
Ramani appeared before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Samar Vishal, as part of Section 313 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which mandates that the accused respond to evidence presented by the complainant. The matter will next be taken up for hearing on 7 September.
Ramani’s witnesses for the next hearing are set to include Niloufer Venkataraman — in whom she had confided at the time of the alleged harassment — and journalist Ghazala Wahab, a former colleague who has also accused Akbar of assault.
Geeta Luthra, Akbar’s lawyer, was absent during the hearing. In her place, Sandeep Kapoor of Karanjawala & Co., chaired his council.
“This is a false and malicious case filed to create a chilling effect among all women who have spoken out about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar,” Ramani told the court, with her counsel Rebecca John standing by her side.
She also said that statements given by five of Akbar’s witnesses earlier were “false and motivated”.
“Sunil Gujral, Joyeeta Basu, Veenu Sandal, Habibur Rehman, and Tapan Chaki are all close personal and professional confidantes of Akbar. They were motivated witnesses in this false case against me,” she said.
‘Spoke the truth’
Several senior journalists and activists, including Harsh Mander, Javaid Ansari and Namita Bhandare, also attended the hearing to express solidarity with Ramani.
“I spoke the truth. My tweet was not malafide, in bad faith, a fabrication, deeply offensive, or spun out of lies,” she said.
In October 2018, Ramani had tweeted a link to an article in the magazine Vogue where she had detailed the alleged sexual harassment by Akbar. Without naming the former Union minister, the article recounted how she was harassed by a “well-known editor” inside a hotel room.
She later named him on Twitter.
“I had finally found the courage and platform to name him publicly,” Ramani told the court, insisting that she spoke out in the context of the #MeToo movement.
Dismissing statements by Akbar’s witnesses
One by one, Ramani dismissed the statements of each of Akbar’s witnesses who had vouched for his “impeccable” character. She told the court that their opinions about him had “no bearing on the truth”.
Responding to Basu’s statement supporting Akbar earlier, Ramani said: “There was nothing scandalous about my tweet. Basu is a false witness and her tweet supporting the complainant a day after I tweeted shows that his reputation was not destroyed or irreparably harmed in her eyes.”
On the statement of Gujral, another witness who deposed in favour of Akbar, Ramani said: “Gujral does not know me and cannot comment on my experience with the complainant.”
She later told the judge how Akbar had tried to target her in order to “divert attention from serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him”.