In what lasted for around two years, the Delhi Court on Feb 1, 2021 decided on the defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani by Mobashar Jawed Akbar (MJ Akbar). This case was filed by politician and former Chief Editor MJ Akbar against the #MeToo allegations made against him by Priya Ramani. Priya Ramani in October, 2018 had alleged via twitter that the person referred to as a sexual harasser in an article written by her earlier in ‘The Vogue’ was none other than MJ Akbar. This was tweeted after several women had accused MJ of sexual harassment. Following her tweet, a lot many articles of similar nature were thrown at the politician by popular Media Houses which according to him led to aggravated defamation.
MJ Akbar initiated a defamation case, under Section 500 read with Section 499 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), against her stating that his “stellar reputation” in the society had been tarnished by her tweet and therefore she should be held liable for criminal defamation. He alleged the accused of making false, derogatory and malicious imputations against him via tweets, articles and online platforms like The Vogue, Firstpost etc. He further alleged that according to the accused the incident had happened two decades back but she had not taken any action before any authority which shows that the articles were a part of her imagination which were made only to malign him.
Section 500 of IPC provides for punishment for defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC. Section 499 defines defamation as harming or intending to harm someone through works spoken or written or signs, etc. In her article, Priya had accused MJ of making her uncomfortable by calling her to interview at 7 pm in his bedroom of a hotel to raise the concern and question of sexual harassment of women in general at workplace. She also accused him of making derogatory comments, obscene phone calls and assault on fresher girls who came to work under him. While MJ Akbar denied all the allegations of the journalist stating that he did not remember any of these happening, Priya Ramani claimed that MJ was already accused of sexual misconduct and therefore he cannot claim to have a stellar reputation in the society. She stated that she had not taken any action before because he had not “done” anything to her and many women have been a victim of much more than what she has. Priya claimed public interest, public good, and truth as her defence. She stood by her statements and refused to settle the matter.
The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Ravindra Kumar Pandey in an open court delivered the judgment in favour of Priya Ramani stating that the offence has not been proven. He acquitted her and accepted the claim of the journalist that MJ’s “stellar reputation” had already been destroyed by the testimony of Ms. Ghazala Wahab who had also accused MJ of sexual abuse. The Court held that MJ cannot be said to have a stellar reputation as many women even before Priya’s tweet had claimed him as sexual predator. The Court observed that woman has the right to put up her grievance in any platform she wishes to even after decades have passed. A victim may not speak up for several years due to mental trauma. She cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse. The Court held that “Right to reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right to dignity“. The Court noted that Indian women are capable to excel in their field, however the only thing they require is freedom and equality. Equal opportunity, social protection and safe work environment is very much necessary for Indian women for advancement in their career.