The Priya Ramani’s Victory in The Defamation Case

‘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

A Young Widow

#SheToo – ‘A Young Widow Isn’t Easy Meat’

Widowed at 23, Radha (name changed) set up a tea shop and initially made just enough to make both ends meet. Now, she performs multiple tasks at the same time from selling wares, to taking care of her two young children, keeping books of her stock, and cooking at home. Her biggest worry however, is to fend off unwanted suitors who believe she is desperate for male company.

I lost my husband four years after my marriage. I was 23 then, with two very young children. I was completely at loss about how I would spend the rest of my life. There were very little savings, so I lived from day to day with help from friends and close relatives. Then I decided I cannot bring up my children on charity forever.

I was 24 when I, with some financial help from parent, set up a small tea shop using mostly my own houseware. That was four years ago. Today, I also sell cigarettes, gutkha pouches and packed snacks, all manly items.

While I am a much more confident person today, it wasn’t an easy going in the initial months. A shop teaches you a lot about how to use your resources, price your goods and haggle with suppliers. But nothing is more frustrating than keeping those Romeos at bay who think a single woman is desperate to pair with men.

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Since my shop is near my house, most customers know my status. Even occasional ones figure out that I am single woman. This clearly sets their hormones raging. Many of these are married men just looking forward to having a good time or just trying to get verbal gratification.

Some of them begin with ‘polite’ sympathy, others use sly compliments, yet others keep staring. But the most difficult ones are those who share sob stories: about how they are in an unhappy marriage. Liars, all.

My shop is very small (about 10 sqft) which means I have to sit in close proximity to men all the time and sometimes it becomes discomforting when these men are constantly staring at you from such close quarters. At times, men try to act fresh and brush past you at the pretense of pushing a glass or fumbling at a gutkha pouch string.

Initially, I got very worked up at their behaviour. But now if someone ‘mistakenly’ touches me, my hot saucepan in which I prepare tea also ‘mistakenly’ touches them. However, I take care that they don’t get burnt; just a slight touch to make them realise what a woman feels about an unwanted touch.

There are men who overstay at the shop engaging in idle talks and showering false compliments. Sometimes I have to manage drunk clients who can’t decide which brand of gutkha or cigarette they want. But all that is routine for any shop owner.

There are nice men too who genuinely respect women. What I miss is socialising with women. All my customers are men who discuss politics, films or their hardships. I hardly get time to meet a woman and speak my heart to her. There is no one to turn for advice either; little time to visit relatives.

I often have an urge to unburden my feelings. I’m but human and I do feel lonely at times. All I can do perhaps is wait from my girl child to grow up and then maybe the two of us can share each other’s anxieties and experiences at length.

A Teen Housemaid's Nightmare

#SheToo – A Teen Housemaid's Nightmare

Four years on, she still gets nightmares:   In 2014, I first stepped out of my native village to travel all the way to Kochi City. An acquaintance had found me work as a domestic help in the city; the money would help my household. I was awe-struck by the big city, the clean apartment, where I would be working, and my English-speaking employers. It took me a few days to adjust to the work.

I saw ‘Saab’ and ‘Madam’ weren’t in a happy marriage. They had violent arguments and would bang the door on each other. There was a part-time maid in the house who would handle duties like giving food or packing lunch for the doctor husband. The part-time maid left in a few months and I took over all the chores.

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I sensed that Saab often brushed past me or felt me up whenever I laid the dinner table for him. I liked Madam more and we often talked in idle time. Yet, I could not gather the courage to share my doubts about Saab with her. Once the wife mentioned to me that her husband took drugs and this was one of the reasons of their rocky marriage.

She wouldn’t have thought of her husband stooping to the level of harassing a maid. I kept quiet as I didn’t want to add to her woes. One evening, Madam announced that she would be leaving for a 10-day workshop to Andhra Pradesh. On an impulse, probably, she said she wouldn’t want to leave me at the house and take me along with her.

The husband insisted that the maid was needed at home to take care of cleaning and cooking. Once again, they had heated arguments and ultimately the wife relented to leave me home. On the very day madam left, Saab called me in his room and said that he had a backache. He took out an ointment tube and asked me to rub all over his lower back. While I was rubbing his back, he suddenly turned over, forcibly took my hand and placed it on his genitals.

I was stunned and tried to run away from the room in disgust. But he had expected this reaction and pulled me down on the bed violently and forced himself on me. I cried in pain the whole night and kept making plans to run away from the house. But I didn’t know the surrounding area; I had hardly stepped out of their house since my arrival there. Over the next ten days, I was raped several times even as I cried and pleaded him to leave me alone. When the wife came back from her training, she found me in a state of shock. I had not eaten or slept properly for the past ten days.

She hugged me, held my head in her arms and asked what had happened. I broke down and started howling for the next several minutes. “Please save me, Didi,” I kept repeating. Later, I narrated the whole incident to her. As I felt safe in her company, I thought about my parents. The humiliation our family would experience when they came to know of my situation.

What will happen to the monthly income the couple was sending them home? Will my acquaintance also come to know about it now? Madam looked shocked and heartbroken. She still couldn’t come to terms that her husband was a child rapist. She told me she would register a complaint with the police and took me to the station. I underwent a medical examination which confirmed rape. However, in the meantime, her in-laws and other relatives reached the police station. I don’t know what happened exactly, but no police action happened afterwards.

Madam told me that she had given up under duress but would file for a divorce. She also assured me of all medical, financial and emotional support needed to come out of the trauma. At that time, I felt she was talking sense. My mind was occupied with thoughts about my family, my village and the rape stigma. The doctor wife arranged my journey back home. She told my family that she held herself guilty but we had to move on.

I gathered that her divorce case stretched on till August 2018 as there was no mention of the husband being a child rapist among the grounds for separation. With help from several quarters, I am now employed as a housemaid in a Gulf country and the earning is good. Yet, there are nights when I wake in cold sweats and stay awake thereafter.