Former Union minister M J Akbar’s cross-examination in a defamation case he filed against journalist Priya Ramani concluded on Saturday, in which he told the court: “It is wrong to suggest that I have been selective in filing this complaint only against Priya Ramani in order to target her and create an all-around chilling effect.”
Akbar told the court that he is aware fact that several women had made allegations against him when he filed the complaint.
“I have not filed any complaint of defamation against any other person, Indian or international publication, web portal, Twitter or Vogue magazine. I reserve my rights to take legal actions against any other person, or any other person or above mentioned entities, in future,” Akbar submitted before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal.
In 2018, in the midst of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, several women had levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar. Following allegations by Ramani and others, Akbar resigned as Union Minister of State for External Affairs.
He later filed a defamation case against Ramani.
Akbar’s cross-examination went on for about 90 minutes in a packed courtroom, which saw heated exchanges between his senior counsel, Geeta Luthra, and Ramani’s counsel, senior advocate Rebecca M John.
Akbar told the court: “It is wrong to suggest that the article and tweets of Priya Ramani were meant to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of the issue of sexual harassment at workplace. It is wrong to suggest that Priya Ramani’s disclosures pertaining to me were true and made in good faith.”
John cross-examined Akbar on allegations by three other women journalists — Pallavi Gogoi, Ruth David, and Prerna Singh Bindra.
Asked whether he was aware of an article written by Gogoi in The Washington Post last November, Akbar told the court that he was “made aware and denied the allegations”. After Gogoi’s article, Akbar and wife Mallika had released a public statement each to ANI.
“It is wrong to suggest that my response to the article was based on legal advice to preempt any action against me. I have not filed any case of defamation against Gogoi and The Washington Post,” he said.
Asked about the article by David, he told the court, “I am not aware, nor have I read any article by Ruth David recounting several instances of sexual misconduct on my part. If any such article is written, it is wrong; and the allegations, if any, are denied.”
Akbar was also shown Bindra’s tweets, to which he replied, “I was not aware about these tweets earlier.” As the cross-examination ended, John asked Akbar whether he was aware that the #MeToo movement began on social media. While this was objected to by his counsel, ACMM Samar Vishal said, “He is a journalist. He can answer.” Akbar then said he was “not aware whether the Me Too movement started on social media but was aware that the #MeToo movement began”.