Landmark victory for India’s MeToo movement as court strikes down defamation claim

In a landmark case that defined India’s Me Too movement, a Delhi court on Wednesday struck down the criminal defamation case brought by a former federal minister against a woman journalist who accused him of sexual harassment.

Acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case initiated by MJ Akbar, additional chief metropolitan magistrate, Ravindra Kumar Pandey, observed that “a woman has the right to put her grievance even after decades.”

The court also noted the social stigma attached with such allegations and said that society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims. Justice Pandey also said that observes that “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser” and that the “right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity.”

“Truth and the absolute truth is my only defence,” Ms Ramani had maintained throughout the trial.

The lawsuit marked a milestone in India’s MeToo movement that swept across social media in October, 2018, and sparked a conversation on consent, workplace sexual harassment, minority rights, and caste and gender based violence.

Mr Akbar, 70, is an editor who was accused by multiple women of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual assault by women journalists.

The verdict, was initially due be pronounced on February 10, but deferred to 17 February.

“It feels amazing, it really does,” Ms Ramani told reporters soon after the the verdict was pronounced. In her testimony in court, she had stated that in December, 1993, Mr Akbar had sexually harassed her at a room at The Oberoi in Mumbai city in Maharashtra state when she had gone there to meet him for a job interview.

Ms Ramani had pleadedtruth, good faith, public interest and public good as her defence. Her lawyer Rebecca John said it was “the most important case of my lifetime.” Mr Akbar was represented by advocate Geeta Luthra andSandeep Kapur.

The court also noted that both parties can file an appeal in case of any grievance and asked Ms Ramani to furnish a bail bond in case an appeal is preferred, legal web portal, Bar and Bench, reported.

Women responded emotionally to the news of Ms Ramani’s acquittal, noting that it felt like a personal victory.

“Ok now i’m really crying. didn’t expect to be but this feels so personal. i bet a lot of survivors are crying today. thank you to priya ramani, ghazala wahab and everyone who fought & spoke up. from many of us who never got to have our trauma addressed or validated. thank you,” tweeted journalist Riddhi Dastidar.

Hundreds of people, across multiple social media platforms, shared personal survivor stories during the autumn of 2018, leading to a closer look at rape culture rampant across India’s workplaces.


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