“The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right to life and dignity of a woman”
Facts of the Case: -
In October 2018, during the #MeToo movement in India, Priya Ramani an Indian journalist, writer and editor alleged sexual harassment against former minister of state for External Affairs M.J Akbar. Vogue India published an article written by Priya Ramani and the title was “To the Harvey Weinstein of the world”, it was in a form of an open letter starting with “Dear Male Boss” in which she had described about the sexual harassment during a job interview in a hotel room when she was 23. But in that article, Priya Ramani hadn’t mentioned the name of the interviewer. At the time of #MeToo movement, on Twitter Priya Ramani tweeted and made an allegation of sexual harassment against former union minister and Journalist M. J Akbar. Priya Ramani tweeted with a reference to her 2017 Vogue article, starting with “I began the piece with M.J Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator- maybe they’ll share”. Soon after Ramani’s tweets, more women accused Akbar of sexual harassment during his career as a journalist.
M.J Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani and he resigned as minister of state for External Affairs. M.J Akbar accused Priya Ramani of willfully, deliberately, intentionally, and maliciously defaming him over a completely false allegation. Akbar sought Priya Ramani under section 499 (defamation) and punishable under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code. Delhi’s Patiala house court granted Priya’s bail against a personal bond and a surety of Rs.10,000. Then, the defamation charge was framed against her, to which she was proven not guilty. Over the course of two years, the argument went on at the Rose Avenue court before an Additional chief Metropolitan magistrate.
Judgment of the case: -
On 17 February, 2021 Delhi court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in former union minister M.J Akbar’s defamation case against her and said that a woman has the right to voice her grievance even after several years. Referring to the great ‘RAMAYANA’ and ‘MAHABHARATA’ in its judgement, the court said that these ancient epics were written to show the importance of dignity of a woman and its very shameful that these types of incidents are still happening in our societies.
Most women do not talk about the sexual harassment due to a lot of reasons. Sometimes the victim does not understand what is happening to her and what she should do. Despite going through extreme cruelty, they chose to stay quiet, the court said.
The court accepted the fact that M.J Akbar was not a man of stellar reputation and pointed that the right to reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right to life and dignity of a woman.
So recently in the judgement of M.J Akbar v. Priya Ramani the court said that: -
· Even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser.
· The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right to life and dignity of women.
· The women have a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.
My review on this Judgment: -
Why most of the women did not speak up about sexual harassment immediately after it happened?
The judgment tries to persuade society to understand that a victim may not speak up for years because of many reasons like societal pressure, mental trauma and often being afraid of disbelieved. And highlighted the point that a woman has all the right to speak up about the abuse, even after decades.
Why a lot of women took the help of media and social media instead of filing a criminal case?
As we know that media and social media are sources of information concerning crime and sexual assault for the majority of the public. The media can help to create a greater understanding of what sexual assault is and why it is intolerable. That is the reason why survivors select social media to share their allegations as a form of self-defense.
What will be the impact of this judgment?
Priya Ramani case is a huge success for all the # MeToo Movement survivors and hopefully this will restrict the powerful men from using the defamation law to silence victims. As the court also said that a woman has all the right to speak up about the sexual harassment even after decades. This judgement will really help to make the society understand about how sexual harassment is completely unlawful and unacceptable.
~ Pragyna Panigrahi
2nd Year, B.A. LL.B (H)
Amity Law School, Amity University,