But who is eventually risking their reputation more here? The woman who has reported sexual harassment or the man who has been accused of it? Observing that in fact there is a social stigma attached to women who face sexual harassment, a Delhi Court acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed against her by journalist and former Union Minister MJ Akbar.
When the #MeToo movement had engulfed Hollywood and almost alongside India, several women had come out in the open accusing MJ Akbar of sexual harassment allegations. Akbar resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs in October 2018 and had sued Ramani with a defamation case over her allegations.
Women have the right even after decades
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey, while acquitting Ramani, observed that, "a woman has the right to put her grievance even after decades." And also that, "even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser. Right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity."
Taking note of workplace abuse that is rampant but often goes unreported, the court also observed, "there was systemic abuse at the workplace and there is social stigma attached to allegations of sexual harassment." The court, however, informed the parties that an appeal can be filed in any court of any grievance.
Priya Ramani is all gratitude
While Rebecca John, heading the case as a senior advocate, has termed the case as the one which has been most important of her life; journalist Priya Ramani, while thanking her lawyers, friends and well-wishers spoke about the ordeal of, "me the victim had to stand up in court as the accused."
She added, while speaking to reporters, "This battle has been about women, hasn't been about me. I just happen to represent all the women who spoke up, the women who spoke before me and the ones who spoke up after me." She also hoped that her victory will encourage more and more women to be fearless and come forward without thinking, while at the same time powerful men will think twice before they dragged victims to court.
Feminists, women and activists applaud the ruling
A meme or two made their way to social media on MJ Akbar who, it is reported, did not look up while the verdict was being pronounced and left the court immediately while surrounded by his lawyers. Akbar's case was headed by senior advocate Geeta Luthra.