MAINTAINING THAT speaking the truth is not defamatory, journalist Priya Ramani told a Delhi court on Thursday that former Union minister M J Akbar, who has filed a criminal defamation case against her, has shied away from contesting her “truth” regarding sexual harassment allegations.
The submission was made on her behalf by Senior Advocate Rebecca John in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey. The final arguments, which remained inconclusive, will continue on December 14.
A former editor, Akbar has sued Ramani over allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. He resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs in October 2018 after several women came forward with similar allegations.
John said Akbar has “shown a great anxiety in not touching the incident of the hotel room” — while referring to the sexual harassment allegations — and rather focused on asking Ramani about her tweet regarding his resignation and whether her Twitter account stands deactivated.
“Priya Ramani’s tweets and her Vogue article are the truth, represent the truth. She has taken the stand, spoken on oath and nothing has been done or said to shake her credibility,” she said, adding that no question was put to her about the hotel room incident in 1993.
Describing Ramani as a senior and internationally recognised journalist, John said her statement must also be viewed in the context of her reputation, and that her credibility stands established beyond a shadow of doubt. She also contended that tweets against Akbar cannot be read in isolation from all other stories and tweets made at the same time.
“She is not the only one who has come out with a painful story,” John said, adding that as per Akbar’s own submission, many women complained around the same time. John denied the allegation that Ramani was the first to speak against Akbar. She said many journalists had already made allegations against him.
“The manner in which she felt threatened and unsafe… a clear episode of sexual harassment at workplace is borne out from a credible, honest and coherent testimony of Priya Ramani. We have no problem in accepting the article and tweets. This is an honest witness and not a dishonest witness,” John said.
Regarding the Vogue article, in which the allegations were made initially but without naming Akbar, John submitted that Ramani is not saying she did not write the article but questioned attempts “to mislead the court by reading the article in a way it was not written”. “She has explained and contextualised the words she has used. When we correlate them with the hotel incident, there is nothing excessive and defamatory about it because speaking the truth is not defamatory,” John told the court, adding that sexual harassment at workplace is a matter of public interest.
Regarding defence witness Niloufer Venkatraman — to whom Ramani had spoken on the night of the incident in 1993 — John submitted that her WhatsApp message, in which she recalled the incident and expressed solidarity with Ramani on learning about her tweet in which she named Akbar, was so spontaneous that there can be no doubt that what Ramani said was the truth. Countering Akbar’s argument that the message was sent to create defence, John said that no one knew anything about the filing of the defamation case then.
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