Noting that a woman has the right to put her grievance even after decades, the Delhi court Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by former union minister and journalist MJ Akbar. He shocked many people with his unpredictable approach first joining the BJP was a real shocker for some older people who have seen his firebrand secular writing in Sunday Magazine which was a sensation those days. After the Gujarat riots, he wrote in 2002: “In Hitler’s case, the enemy was the Jew; in Modi’s case the enemy is Muslim. Such a politician is not a fool; in fact, he may have a high degree of intellect. But it is intellect unleavened by reason, and untendered by humanism.” That MJ Akbar who wrote about the Moradabad riots in 1980 Eid the day of Death, lashing out fearlessly at congress party’s criminal neglect in providing protection to minorities. That was the time he was young and idealist now he is a highly seasoned influential journalist who acquired worldly wisdom along the way if you can’t beat them join them. Worldly conventional wisdom has paid off. He became an honourable Minister in BJP. Why would he spend his precious time below poverty line illiterate people, when he can shine among movers and shakers?
Another shocker came with the acquisition of sexual assault. Ramani, the first woman to accuse MJ Akbar of sexual harassment during the #MeToo campaign, in an article in 2017 and a tweet in 2018, had alleged that the former Minister of State for External Affairs had sexually harassed her during a job interview in 1994. Over 20 women accused Akbar of sexual harassment during the time they had worked with him as journalists. He has, however, termed the allegations “false, fabricated and deeply distressing” while stressing that he was taking appropriate legal action against them. Akbar, had told a Delhi court through his lawyers that Ramani “deliberately, intentionally, maliciously” destroyed evidence by deleting the Twitter account. There could be some truth in the allegations, against the Minister. He has been a celebrated editor, a well-known journalist, and is quite well regarded for his writing. He has written quite a few books. I have had an opportunity to read, Kashmir, Behind the Vale (1991), The Shades of Sword (1994), Blood Brothers (2006), and Nehru: The Making of India (1994), of the many books penned by MJ Akbar. These are really good books and written in well-crafted English.
Due to his writings, Akbar had and still has a huge fan following. The admiration and adulation, the writer has received, and the desire of the people in power, to cultivate an editor of such stature makes MJ Akbar, a man of power in his own right, even without being a central government minister. Many aspiring journalists would have come to him to learn the craft of good journalism, from a master. Slowly this power starts breeding a sense of entitlement, including expectations of sexual favors. So, I do believe there could be a strong possibility of some truth being there in the allegations being labelled against MJ Akbar.
Instead of resigning from the post and then clearing his name as a private citizen, he has chosen to brazen it out, by filing a defamation suit against Priya Ramani. It is a criminal defamation suit. That he has denied the allegations is understandable. But what beats common sense is the fact that the Modi government has bought Akbar’s theory of a conspiracy against the present government of labelling such allegations just before the forthcoming general elections. But then Modi is so much at loss to understand, that how could a people, who supported him that big in 2014, turn against his government so much in just a few years, that he is willing to buy the conspiracy theory.
There is some sensitivity still left and MJ resigned from the government and is to clear his name as a private citizen. Because both PM Narendra Modi and late Sushma Swaraj were just ready to make a scathing attack on the Congress party, that Congress Ministers are so corrupt, dishonest, and pervert, Congress party has no honourable people among them. But the accusations of sexual harassment and molestation against their own, BJP sitting Minister of State for External Affairs not gone well with the party. As soon as they realised this, that Akbar is one of our own they lost their voice, and they maintained silence. Well, there is a justice system and one has to pay for its Karma.
Reading out the order, the court said that there are social stigmas attached to the allegations. Society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims, and added, “A woman has right to put her grievance even after decades”. The court further informed the parties that an appeal can be filed in case of any grievance and asked Ramani to furnish a bail bond in case an appeal is preferred. In its verdict, the Delhi court observed that even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser. “Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence,” it said, and asserted that the “right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of the right to dignity.” The court also referred to ancient texts and Mahabharata while reading out its order. The court recorded that Ramani’s disclosure was in the interest of helping those facing sexual harassment at the workplace. The Delhi court, hearing the criminal defamation case, however, rejected the defense of the accused regarding a particular portion in the Vogue article. It contended that the allegations were malicious and defamatory publication by design. Reading out the order, the court stated that MJ Akbar was defamed after the publication of tweets. The court further stated that Akbar is a man of reputation and that the content is not disputed by Priya Ramani. The court noted the submissions made by Priya Ramani and reiterated the defense taken by her. It is further contended that the tweet on resignation was untrue. “On perusal and joint reading… the court is of the view that content is defamatory,” the court said. Let’s hope the other women who feel vulnerable and intimidated can rise too.