Former Union minister M J Akbar’s case in the defamation suit against her was centred on his “stellar reputation”, but this was false and “I had every right to contest it,” journalist Priya Ramani told a Delhi court on Tuesday.
Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John made the submissions while addressing her final arguments before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja. Her arguments could not be concluded, and the matter was deferred to September 14.
Ramani had levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar, who subsequently resigned as Union Minister of State for External Affairs in October 2018 and filed a defamation case against her.
John was trying to contextualise reasons why journalist Ghazala Wahab was brought in as a defence witness when she made her arguments on Akbar’s reputation. She contended, “It is Mr Akbar’s case that he is a man of stellar, good reputation, which is central to their case. But it is not central to my case. I have contested and I have said that all of this is false. Ghazala Wahab was brought as a witness as a direct contestation to the stellar reputation claimed by the complainant.
“In the painful story that she had to tell, it is my case that none of the averments made by the complainant (Akbar) could be sustained with respect to his reputation. They brought his reputation in the case and when they did, I have every right to contest it.”
John said defence witness Niloufer Venkatraman’s testimony was sufficient corroboration of “Ramani’s truth”. Venkatraman had told the court that Ramani had spoken to her about sexual harassment by Akbar during an interview in 1993. Referring to the final arguments made by Akbar’s legal team, John told the court, “They shied away from the hotel incident. There was no contestation of the hotel incident. You can prove perhaps he never stayed in that hotel room — perhaps he was not there in November-December (1993); so many alternative defences could have been taken. They shied away because they knew she was speaking the truth.”
Rebutting Akbar’s claims of a delay in making allegations, John told the court about the genesis of Vishaka guidelines, the “tardy pace with which legislation came to be passed”, and how finally — in 2013 — sexual harassment at workplace became a penal offence. She submitted: “Therefore, to simply say why didn’t you complain, why didn’t you invoke the IPC…what happened? This Act, their judgments are the result of a long journey that women have had to fight on an issue of public importance and public good. Asian Age (newspaper) certainly did not have any mechanism in 1993 because it was not even envisaged at that time.”