‘Had Priya Ramani Spoken Early, It Would’ve Helped Others’

Namita Shetty, 40, a trauma therapist in Mumbai, says if a journalist of Priya Ramani’s stature had spoken up against harassment in time, it would have saved many others from similar suffering

In my honest opinion the hashtag #MeToo doesn’t really help when it comes to abuse and harassment at the workplace. In my work as a psychotherapist, I can say that each case is different, and to push them all under the same umbrella (such as #MeToo) is problematic.

Coming to the Priya Ramani case, I frankly am not very proud of her. I would instead hold the example of an IAS officer like Rupan Deol Bajaj, who took on a man of the stature of KPS Gill, considered by many a super cop, a hero, in good time.

I feel sad that that a journalist of Priya Ramani’s standing needed a #MeToo surge to be able to tell her story of harassment. If a journalist of her experience did not have the courage to speak up for 25 years, how could she have the conviction to report matters of gender injustices such as Nirbhaya, Priyanka Reddy, Hathras, or lately Unnao? Having said that, it is still important that these stories be told, the traumas be shared.

Shetty (left) holds the fight of Rupan Deol Bajaj (right) in high esteem

If you feel you have been abused, you are supposed to speak up, not listen. It is the time to have a voice, not an ear to listen to other weaker, more scared voices and stop. I admire the courage of an unlettered woman like Asha Devi (Nirbhaya’s mother) who had the tenacity and the resilience to fight things through and not be embarrassed by what happened to her daughter. That is how we are supposed to react. By hiding our stories, we become victims over and over again.

I say there is a difference between being a victim and moving around with a sense of victimhood when it comes to harassment and abuse. Especially in the workplace you need to take quicker actions because you need to see the person everyday. Don’t wait for workplaces to strengthen the policies. While that is always welcome, work with the tools you have in hand right now and work towards feeling better.

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Being a victim of harassment is like registering what is wrong and untoward. But victimhood is not the answer. React; act whatever makes you feel empowered, legally or socially. If you are outraged at what happened to your dignity and modesty then walk with that anger and outrage until you feel better. Don’t wait for a revolution to share your story; be the revolution. Your story is as sacred as anyone else’s.

We need to do away with the ‘bechara’ culture in India. Bechara is the language of victimhood. Be a ‘ME’ and not a ‘ME TOO’. Love yourself enough so that the perpetrator cannot find gaps in your personality or gaslight you, be sure of yourself. Own your sexuality and your orientation. Owning yourself fully is the most powerful things you can do.

And while it is okay for people to come out decades later with their stories, it is preferable to come out sooner. You don’t have to carry the pain for so long. The post-pandemic workplace has changed and most of the work has gone virtual, that doesn’t mean you let go of virtual harassment.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Ramani’s Win Will Act As A Precedent, And A Deterrent’

Prerna Priyadarshini, 35, a Masters of Laws from Harvard Law School and a practicing Supreme Court lawyer, says the Priya Ramani’s victory in the defamation case is a logical step forward to the Vishakha judgment in 1997

The Priya Ramani judgment in my view comes as a much needed addition to the discourse on the issue of sexual harassment at work place. The process has its roots in the Vishaka judgment of the Supreme Court in the year 1997 which culminated into the law on protection of women from harassment at workplace in 2013. In this light, the court order in Priya Ramani’s case is a welcome step forward from a legal standpoint; and much more from that of a working woman’s viewpoint.

From the legal perspective, it may be construed as only part victory since acquitting Priya Ramani from the charge of defamation is not the same thing as punishing MJ Akbar for his alleged crimes of sexual harassment against her or anyone else. Yet, there are at least three significant reasons noted in the judgment that ought to be widely publicised and made known to all women, particularly the working women across our country.

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First, that a woman cannot be penalised for raising her voice against sexual harassment at workplace on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation. Second, a woman has the right to speak up about the sexual harassment suffered by her at any point in time and at any platform. And, third, the right to reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right to life and dignity of a woman as guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

The mental state of a woman who has been at the receiving end of sexual harassment and the dilemmas she faces while reacting to it range from self-shame to the attached stigma, to self-pity and fault-finding in herself. Such a distressful situation often makes them either to hold the trauma as their dark secrets or to delay their decision to complain about it. The court judgment in Ramani’s case acknowledges this trauma. Hence, it also gives hope and encouragement to women in speaking up against their sufferings.

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I also think, it’ll have a greater impact in cases where the perpetrator of the crime is someone mighty and powerful, or a public figure, as it was in Ms Ramani’s case. It may work as a deterrent.

I think (and I hope), the judgment will serve another very important purpose and make anyone in MJ Akbar’s shoes rethink before using a criminal defamation proceeding as an intimidation tactic or a revenge mechanism against a woman, who goes public with her sexual harassment complaint.

Additionally, I hope that the verdict, when challenged in appeal by MJ Akbar, is also upheld by the higher courts, which would definitely help in this becoming a significant precedent in sexual harassment cases.

As Told To Mamta Sharma