Former Union Minister MJ Akbar today in a cross-examination denied meeting journalist Priya Ramani in 1993 at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai after saying he "didn't remember" the incident in the last hearing. He however stuck to his stock response of "don't remember" when questioned about four other women's account of sexual misconduct against him. Mr Akbar has filed a defamation suit against Ms Ramani who accused him of sexual harassment last year.
The cross examination went on for over three hours before the court adjourned the hearing to July 6.
"It is incorrect to suggest that I called Priya Ramani to come to my room. It is wrong to suggest that she was hesitant or that I insisted... I do not know whether it was the first job interview by Priya Ramani after her graduation," Mr Akbar testified.
Ms Ramani had tweeted about the former minister's alleged objectionable behaviour in the hotel room.
Mr Akbar stuck to his go to line "I do not recall" when asked about three other journalists who worked with him. For another journalist's tweets accusing him of sexual harassment, he had the same answer - he did not recall the encounter. There was just one journalist he could recall working with in 2010.
The courtroom witnessed heated exchanges between Mr Akbar and Ms Ramani's lawyers during the course of the hearing. Senior advocate Geeta Luthra - appearing for Mr Akbar - interrupted Ms Ramani's counsel several times and raised objections on the suggestive nature of questions and lack of relevance. Ms Luthra also objected saying there were "too many questions" in the cross-examination.
Ms Ramani's charges had forced MJ Akbar to step down as the junior foreign minister in October last year at the peak of the #MeToo movement that unleashed a wave of accusations against prominent public figures. Around 39 women have accused the former minister of sexual misconduct.
"As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court," Ms Ramani, one of the first women to accuse Mr Akbar, had tweeted on the day he resigned.
Days later, he filed a defamation case claiming that Priya Ramani damaged his reputation by levelling "false, wild and baseless allegations".
A US-based journalist has also levelled sexual harassment allegations against Mr Akbar, who, she claimed assaulted her at a Jaipur hotel over 23 years ago, followed by instances of "sexual, verbal and emotional" defilement. When the former Union Minister insisted that theirs was a consensual affair, she said that a relationship "based on coercion and abuse of power" cannot be couched in such terms.
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