- Women can't be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse: Court
- Most times sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors: Court
- Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves, said Priya Ramani
Former Union Minister MJ Akbar's defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani -- filed over her allegations of sexual misconduct against him -- could not be proved, a Delhi Court said today, acquitting her of all charges. "Women can't be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse," the court said, adding that "right of reputation" -- a reference to MJ Akbar's suit -- "cannot be protected at the cost of right to dignity".
"The Indian constitution allows women to put forward her grievances before any forum and at any time," the judge said, taking cognizance of the lack of mechanisms to raise sexual harassment complaints.
Pointing out that "even a man of (high) social status (standing) can be a sexual harasser," Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said, "It can't be ignored that most times sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors".
"Most of the women who suffer abuse can't often speak up due to stigma and attack on their character," he added.
Ms Ramani told the media that she feels "vindicated" on behalf of the women who spoke out against sexual harassment in the workplace.
"Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves despite the fact that it is me, being the victim who had to stand up in court as the accused," she said. "I hope it will discourage powerful men from filing false cases against women who share their truths," she told NDTV.
Ms Ramani had accused the former editor of sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement of 2018. She had tweeted a newspaper article she wrote a year ago, where she accused a "former boss" of being a "sexual predator".
Later in court, she said the incident took place around 20 years ago. Mr Akbar, who headed Asian Age at the time, had called her to his hotel bedroom for a job interview and behaved inappropriately, she had told the court.
Her tweet had opened the floodgates, with around 20 women stepping forward with similar allegations against the former editor.
On October 15, 2018, Mr Akbar -- then a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet -- approached the court. He resigned two days later, on October 17, 2018.
In a 41-page defamation suit, Mr Akbar alleged that Priya Ramani's tweets and newspaper article had spoiled the reputation and goodwill he built over 40 years and he had to step down from PM Modi's government.
Ms Ramani had said the lawsuit was "an attempt to intimidate" her. The case, she said, was also an attempt to "create a chilling effect among all the women who spoke out about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar".