Journalist Priya Ramani has told a Delhi court hearing a criminal defamation complaint filed by former union minister MJ Akbar against her that there has been "deliberate" and "mischievous" misreading of her article in which she wrote about the alleged sexual harassment incident.
Ms Ramani, who had accused MJ Akbar of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago, stated this through senior advocate Rebecca John during the final hearing of the matter.
She claimed that she has spoken the truth about the allegations against Akbar, made in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2018, in good faith, which related to public interest and was not defamatory.
MJ Akbar had filed the complaint against Priya Ramani for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct around two decades ago when he was a journalist.
The court has put up the matter for further hearing on December 14.
Ms John said only the first four paragraphs of the article in the magazine was about MJ Akbar and the rest of it was about other male bosses.
"(MJ) Akbar was creating unnecessary controversy before the court by misreading an article in the way it was not written. There has been deliberate and mischievous misreading of the Vogue article. Ramani has explained the context that only the first four paragraphs relate to Akbar and not the whole article," Ms John told Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Ravindra Kumar Pandey.
The senior advocate further said if MJ Akbar claimed to have "sterling reputation", then her statement should also be viewed in context of her reputation.
"(Priya) Ramani is a credible witness, a journalist of repute and stature, occupying senior positions in news media and not trying to waste the time of the court in any manner when she forthrightly admitted the publication of her tweet and her article. Her credibility stands established beyond a shadow of doubt.
"I also say that not just the truth, Ramani has been able to prove good faith also because there has been no recklessness in the manner in which she has told her story. She is not the only one who has come out with her painful story against Akbar," John submitted.
She further said that Ramani worshipped MJ Akbar's work while growing up and hence there was no old enmity with him.
"She was only 23 years old when the incident happened and hence being of such a young age she did not know how to say no. Ramani's tweets cannot be read in isolation from all these other tweets and stories made at the same time," the senior counsel said.
Ms John said Ms Ramani has also been attacked on the ground that there has been delay in reporting the allegations but there was no redressal mechanism in 1993-94, when the incident happened.
"Sexual harassment at the work place is a matter of public interest. It has been recognised as a violation of the fundamental rights of women. I have spoken my truth and said it in good faith and my truth relates to public interest. It is not defamatory," she said.
Ms Ramani had earlier said that MJ Akbar did not have a "sterling reputation" as claimed by him. She had claimed before the court that a number of women have accused Akbar of sexual misconduct and, by his own account, he was having a consensual relationship while he was married to someone else, which was not a sterling reputation.
"He (MJ Akbar) himself says he was in a consensual relationship (with one of his juniors, who, during the #MeToo movement, accused him of rape) which was hampering his family life. Is this the conduct of the man with a sterling reputation? As a man who is married to someone else, he is having a consensual relationship..."
"At least 15-16 women tweeted against Akbar. Akbar was, according to himself, in a relationship with a junior who was 20 years younger... this is not sterling reputation," Ms John said.
She had claimed in the court that many women had made allegations against MJ Akbar but he chose to file the case against only Ms Ramani. "He knew there were other women... he has admitted before the court about reading an article which carried allegations by several women," she said.
MJ Akbar filed the complaint against Priya Ramani on October 15, 2018. He resigned as union minister on October 17, 2018.
MJ Akbar had earlier told the court that Priya Ramani had defamed him by calling him with adjectives such as "media's biggest predator" that harmed his reputation. He has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by the women who came forward during the #MeToo campaign.
Over 20 women came up with accounts of the alleged sexual harassment by MJ Akbar while they were working as journalists under him. He termed the allegations false, fabricated and deeply distressing and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them.