New Delhi: After receiving support from columnist Veenu Sandal, former Union minister M.J. Akbar was supported by two other former colleagues Wednesday in the defamation case he has filed against journalist Priya Ramani, who is among a number of women who have accused him of sexual harassment.
Both witnesses – corporate communications consultant Tapan Chaki and businessman Sunil Gujral – attested to Akbar’s “impeccable” character and said Ramani’s tweets alleging sexual harassment had done “great damage” to his image.
Tension arose between the two counsel during cross examination, with Akbar’s advocate Geeta Luthra repeatedly objecting to questions raised by Rebecca John, who is representing Ramani. John also accused Luthra of tutoring Akbar’s witnesses.
‘Highest regard for Akbar’
Appearing as a witness, Chaki, who had worked with Akbar in The Asian Age newspaper, said, “I have the highest regard for Akbar – both as a man and a journalist. He would get along very well with people and was exacting as an editor. Ramani’s tweets have caused enormous damage to his reputation. I have known him for several years and there has been no occasion when anyone had ever mentioned anything remotely resembling to these allegations”.
Chaki was later cross-examined by Ramani’s counsel who asked him why he had failed to say these things in his previous statement.
Objecting to the question, Akbar’s counsel remarked: “He said the same thing in different words. You can’t be semantic”.
Chaki denied reading any of the tweets or publications by other women alleging sexual harassment by Akbar but said he “was informed of the same”.
“It is incorrect to suggest I am deliberately feigning ignorance about reading the tweets and articles of multiple other women…” he said, before his cross-examination came to an end.
Even before Gujral could give his statement, members of Ramani’s team accused Akbar’s counsel of tutoring him. “The witness is being tutored right outside the courtroom,” said John.
Claiming to have known Akbar for nearly 40 years, Gujral denied having any knowledge of sexual harassment claims by any other women.
“In my interactions with friends, acquaintances and business associates, allegations by other women were not brought to my attention. It would be incorrect to suggest that I have deliberately concealed knowledge of the same,” he said.
According to Gujral, he joined Akbar in 2010 when the latter was starting the Sunday Guardian newspaper, and had been a printer-publisher for the company for around three years.
When asked by Ramani’s counsel about handing out a Rs 5 lakh loan to Akbar in his personal capacity in 2016, Gujral said, “I may have. I don’t remember.”
Though Akbar’s counsel raised an objection to the question, the court said it will decide on it at the end of the trial.
The next hearing in Delhi’s Rouse Avenue District Court is scheduled for 2 August.