Updated: Aug 20, 2022
On February 17, a Delhi court acquitted Priya Ramani in the MJ Akbar v Priya Ramani case. Akbar, a journalist and a former member of the Parliament sued Priya Ramani for defamation in regards to the sexual harassment allegations made by her against him during the #MeToo campaign. Her acquittal in the case can be seen as an empowering judgement for all women. Here are some highlights from this historical judgement.
The judgement given by judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey highlights the importance of creating a safe and healthy working environment for women across India. It was remarked that even persons who are very famous and reputed in the society could show extreme cruelty in their treatment of women. The court took into cognizance the lack of proper grievance redressal mechanism present at the time when this particular incident had taken place and how the social stigma that is associated with sexual harassment might have prevented the woman from lodging a complaint. The need for society to understand the effects of sexual abuse on women was stressed upon.
It was remarked that often abused women do not speak up because of the “social stigma” that is prevalent in society with regards to sexual harassment. It was very rightly and justly pointed out how the right of a victim to speak up against her abusers cannot be subjugated in the pretext of preventing defamation of the abuser. A woman has the right to put forth her grievances even if she does so after years of the incident. The Indian woman needs freedom and equality to excel. The Economic Survey Report referred by the court clearly highlights how women occupy only about 25% of the workplace. It is required to establish a cohesive and safe working environment for women to increase their participation in the work force.
The judgement drives home that sexual harassment entails more than just touching someone. The court took into account all the allegations made by various women against Akbar which ranged from rape to making someone uncomfortable. It was simply stated that "Akbar is not a man of a stellar reputation” when so many women had put forth allegations against him.
The case is not a final win for the #MeToo campaign, let's be honest on that.As this case was resolved by a lower court, it will hardly establish a definitive precedent in cases involving sexual assault. But it will definitely discourage someone convicted of sexual assault from filing a case of defamation in the future until he is absolutely sure of victory.It is also unlikely to contribute to the formulation of any new rules on sexual assault at the workplace, unlike the Vishaka ruling. The Vishaka judgement contributed to the development of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.Yet the true implications of this decision will be evident in the years to follow.
We ought to note that the world is a lot more understanding and supportive to men and would rather believe them. Still, let's not ignore that claiming #MeToo would not be enough for females to get retribution. You can see a lot of instances where men who have been accused of sexual abuse at their workplace return to their work without any societal or legal implications. These men don't think they did anything wrong, they just got caught in the act. And their acts are still the responsibility of those who have been victims to them. What really has to shift is society’s gaze on predators and survivors for this movement to sustain.
 Sunetra Choudhury, Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar case: 5 takeaways from the order Hindustan Times (2021), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/priya-ramani-vs-mj-akbar-case-5-takeaways-from-the-order-101613621211188.html (last visited Feb 28, 2021).  Smita Singh, Why is the Priya Ramani Vs MJ Akbar verdict a milestone? National Herald (2021), https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/why-is-the-priya-ramani-vs-mj-akbar-verdict-a-milestone(last visited Feb 28, 2021).
Author ~ Devanshi shukla
Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad