Following a trial that lasted almost two years, a Delhi Court today acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case initiated by former Union Minister MJ Akbar in relation to the sexual harassment allegations levelled against him during the #MeToo movement of 2018 (MJ Akbar v. Priya Ramani), the Bar and Bench reported.
The order which was reserved on February 1 was pronounced by Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey.
"Right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity," the Bar and Bench quoted Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey as saying.
Judge Pandey noted in the order,"...society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims."
It was observed that even though Akbar was a man of reputation, even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser.
"Woman has right to put her grievance even after decades," he added.
The Court also took note of systematic abuse at the workplace, highlighting that the Vishaka Guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace put forth by the Supreme Court in 1997 were not in effect at the time of the incident.
The verdict was initially slated to be pronounced on February 10. However, on that date, the judge deferred the pronouncement till today, stating that he had received the written submissions made by the parties late.
Ramani claimed that in December 1993, MJ Akbar sexually harassed her when she was called to The Oberoi, Mumbai for a job interview.
In October 2018, MJ Akbar had filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after she took to Twitter to level allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
While Ramani pleaded truth, good faith, public interest and public good as her defences in the defamation trial, Akbar denied the meeting at the hotel.
Ramani inter alia contended that given the volume of sexual harassment disclosures by multiple women on social media, there was no evidence of MJ Akbar's "stellar reputation" which was claimed to have been tarnished by her.
MJ Akbar maintained that the allegations made by Ramani "stink of bad faith" and were nothing but malicious and "fabricated non-events".
It was submitted that in the absence of any complaint to any court or authority, Akbar could not be subjected to a social media trial after nearly three decades, without the exercise of any due care and caution.
He also argued that Ramani had failed to discharge the onus of proving the defence pleaded by her.
Akbar was represented by Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra and Sandeep Kapur, Senior Partner at Karanjawala and Co while Ramani was represented by Senior Advocate Rebecca John with Advocate Bhavook Chauhan.