Priya Ramani, the journalist who accused former editor and Union minister MJ Akbar of sexual harassment, today said she had spoken up more than two decades after the event so that women facing similar situations might find the courage to fight back. During her questioning by Mr Akbar's lawyer, Ms Ramani said it was important and necessary for women to speak up about sexual harassment at the workplace and she thought her disclosures will empower women and help them better understand their rights.
Mr Akbar, who was Union minister at the time Ms Ramani made her allegation in 2018 during India's MeToo wave, has sued her, alleging deliberate and malicious defamation.
In his 41-page lawsuit, he said her tweets and a newspaper article spoiled his reputation and goodwill built over 40 years and he had to quit his job as the junior foreign minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
"In all my disclosures pertaining to Mr Akbar, I spoke the truth in public interest and the public good. It was my hope that the disclosures which were a part of the MeToo movement would empower women and help them understand their rights at the workplace in a better manner," Ms Ramani told the judge, Samar Vishal, at a Delhi court today.
The case, she said, has come at a "great personal cost" to her. "I have nothing to gain of it," she added. "By staying silent, I could have avoided the targeting but that would not have been the right thing to do," she added.
During cross-examination, Mr Akbar's lawyer Geeta Luthra repeatedly asked Ms Ramani to recall names of all the articles she wrote during her 10-month tenure at the Asian Age in 1994, where he was the editor. When Ms Ramani said she used to file daily reports about stock exchange, even then she was specifically asked for the headlines of each article.
Ms Ramani was also asked whether she knew that were legal provisions against sexual harassment even prior to 2018, as she spoke up for the first time about the incident only that year. The hearing will resume on October 24, when Ms Ramani's questioning will continue.
In her statement in court, Ms Ramani said Mr Akbar had called her to his hotel bedroom for a job interview and behaved inappropriately.
"When I reached his room, it was an intimate space, essentially his bedroom, and I was deeply uncomfortable and felt unsafe at Akbar's repeated inappropriate personal questions, his offer of an alcoholic beverage, his loud singing of songs and his invitation to sit close to him," she said.
Mr Akbar's lawsuit, she said, "is an attempt to intimidate me by deliberately targetting me".
The case against her, 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".