‘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

#MeToo Deserves an applause in a Misogynist world

According to folklore, the only way to ‘subdue’ a woman with teeth in her vagina is to rape her, knock off her teeth and then marry her and claim her. From folklore to mythology, and Bollywood to White House (currently occupied by a man who allegedly believes women should be grabbed by the p***y) — we live in an overtly misogynistic world, where men have been given the entitlement of getting away with treating women like a commodity.

And this global misogyny has become entrenched in our DNA. Right?

Think again. Only this time it cannot be subdued with force. It is a revolution and it is called #MeToo. #MeToo is a movement where women are speaking up about their stories of incidents of sexual harassment in their lives every day. In the short history (10 years to be exact) of hashtag activism, MeToo seems to have emerged as the most successful campaign to have resonated among millions of women all over the world.

Started by an American activist, Tarana Burke in 2006, the movement was resurrected last year in October by actress Alyssa Milano, who used #MeToo on Twitter and encouraged women to speak up about the sexual harassment they face in everyday life. What followed was a barrage of accusations from women in the US and across the world.

Actresses Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeniffer Lawrence and Ashley Judd came out with their stories of harassment by Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. Bloomberg reports that in the past one year, there have been 425 accusations in the US alone, thanks to the #MeToo campaign.

In India, journalists Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil), Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) and writer Mahima Kukreja (@AGirlOfHerWords) created a MeTooIndia hashtag and received hundreds of accounts every day, (from film and media industry initially, which later spread to other sectors as well). The result: Men, many of them sitting at the helm of success, have had to resign.

The message is loud and clear, men can no longer get away with sexual misdemeanour. Staring at cleavage, eve-teasing, feeling up women, cracking bawdy jokes, sending pornographic pictures, browbeating a woman into submission are not acts of machismo. There is a word for it and it is called harassment, which by law is a punishable crime.

Ten years ago, actress Tanushree Dutta was branded ‘unprofessional’ when she put her foot down and refused to perform certain dance steps that would have allowed actor Nana Patekar to paw her. Her refusal was followed by intimidation by goons. She filed complaints with Cine and TV Artists Association (CINTA) and the police, but no action was taken. Even earlier, a battery of women suffered silently in newsrooms, in dread of their “predatory editor”, in this case erstwhile minister of state for foreign affairs MK Akbar.

So what is different now that people are taking notice? Probably, women have had enough and they are no longer scared to let the skeletons roll out of the closets. The bullying, however, hasn’t stopped there. Akbar’s posse of lawyers threatened one particular journalist, Priya Ramani, with a criminal defamation suit.

A year ago, Ramani had written an open letter to Harvey Weinstein’s of the world, without taking any names. After the MeToo movement picked up in India, she admitted on Twitter that it was Akbar that she had written about. Mint (the newspaper she works in) read ‘#iamwithpriya’ in place of Priya Ramani’s regular column, when the news of the SLAPP suit flashed across news channels. It is an unprecedented act that deserves to be praised, especially when it comes from a sector, where sexual harassment redressal has rarely been given any attention.

Times, they are a changing. Authorities seem to have woken up. Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Welfare has stated there should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment at work. Home Minister Rajnath Singh (despite mocking the MeToo campaign) will lead a group of ministers to strengthen legal and institutional framework to deal and prevent sexual harassment.

The National Commission for Women and Delhi Commission for Women have set up email IDs to receive complaints and ensure their quick redressal. In the film industry, CINTAA and the Producers Guild of India will form a special committee and will take steps to ensure redressal and prevention of sexual harassment.

But there are others who need to be heard.

When #MeToo was trending on social media, 36 school girls in Saharsa, Bihar quit school out of fear of eve-teasers. Several other girls from Jharkhand, who were rescued in a trafficking racket, admitted to having been raped and tortured by their employers. One tribal girl who was rescued, died in Ranchi after being tortured by her employer in Delhi. A pin was inserted in her tongue to silence her forever. But she did not have a voice in the first place that could have been silenced. There are lakhs of women like her, who still suffer in silence.

Martha Farell Foundation conducted a quick survey among 291 part-time maids working in Gurgaon, Faridabad and South Delhi. It found that over 29 percent of women domestic workers reported sexual harassment at work. Of this, 20 percent complained to the police but received no outcome and 19 percent remained silent. Hashtag Activism is yet to touch this section of the society. The #SheToo voice is inaudible but not silent. #MeToo has penetrated rural India and women and is trending in small towns of India.

Google’s MeTooRising app that tracks the Google searches for #MeToo all over the world carries a quote from activist-poet Muriel Rukeyser on its opening screen, ‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open’. That is exactly what is happening. As I write, India continues to shine on the map like the Kohinoor diamond. The app lists out names that were unheard of.

Today the top Indian cities/ towns where #MeToo is trending are: Mohammadpur Gujar in Haryana, Jatni in Odisha, and Selakui in Uttarakhand. Rural India is appearing on the #MeToo radar. Women reporters from Khabar Lahariya, a grassroots network of women journalists in small town and rural India have written an open letter compiling their stories of sexual harassment in journalism. Post #MeToo, the unsolicited porn videos, they used to receive regularly have come to a stop.

Critics fear that #MeToo can be misused by many. And it is true. But the movement has made men cautious, they can no longer get away with everyday harassment and blame the woman for being unprofessional or prude. It is a tempting idea, but women cannot grow teeth in their vagina. The next best thing is to join a movement to speak up about her ordeal and not be afraid to name her perpetrator.

Scribe accuses Akbar of rape, wife says 'lie'

The Washington Post.

Akbar’s lawyer Sandeep Kapur said: “My client states that these (allegations) are false and expressly denied”. Gogoi said that Akbar, the editor in chief of the Asian Age newspaper at that time, was a brilliant journalist but used his position to prey on her. “What I am about to share are the most painful memories of my life. I have shelved them away for 23 years,” she said, detailing how Akbar physically and mentally harassed her for years while working at the Asian Age newspaper from New Delhi to Mumbai to Jaipur to London. Gogoi said she was 22 when she joined the Asian Age. She was star-struck working under Akbar. She was mesmerised by his use of language, his turns of phrase and took all the verbal abuse. At 23, Gogoi became the editor of the op-ed page which was a big responsibility at a young age, she said. “But I would soon pay a very big price for doing a job I loved. “It must have been late spring or summer of 1994, and I had gone into his office his door was often closed. I went to show him the op-ed page I had created with what I thought were clever headlines. He applauded my effort and suddenly lunged to kiss me. I reeled. I emerged from the office, red-faced, confused, ashamed, destroyed,” she alleged. The second incident was a few months later when she was summoned to Mumbai to help launch a magazine, she claimed. “He called me to his room at the fancy Taj hotel, again to see the layouts. When he again came close to me to kiss me, I fought him and pushed him away. He scratched my face as I ran away, tears streaming down. That evening, I explained the scratches to a friend by telling her I had slipped and fallen at the hotel,” she wrote in the Post. When she got back to Delhi, Akbar threatened to kick her out of the job if she resisted him again. But she didn’t quit the paper, she said. One story took her to a remote village a few hundred miles from Delhi and the assignment was to end in Jaipur. When she checked back, Akbar said she could come discuss the story in his hotel in Jaipur, she claimed. “In his hotel room, even though I fought him, he was physically more powerful. He ripped off my clothes and raped me,” she alleged, adding that instead of reporting him to the police, she was filled with shame. “I didn’t tell anyone about this then. Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself,” Gogoi said. Gogoi claimed that Akbar’s grip over her got tighter. For a few months, he continued to defile her sexually, verbally, emotionally. He would burst into loud rages in the newsroom if he saw her talking to male colleagues. It was frightening. “I cannot explain today how and why he had such power over me, why I succumbed. Was it because I was afraid of losing my job? I just know that I hated myself then. And I died a little every day,” she said. She said that she continued to look for reporting assignments that would take her far away. Gogoi recalled covering the December 1994 elections. For her excellent work, Akbar said he would send her either to the US or the UK as a reward. “I thought that finally, the abuse would stop because I would be far away from the Delhi office. Except the truth was that he was sending me away so I could have no defences and he could prey on me whenever he visited the city,” she said. Gogoi alleged that Akbar once worked himself into a rage in the London office after he saw her talking to a male colleague. He hit her and went on a rampage, throwing things from the desk at her a pair of scissors or whatever he could get his hands on. She ran away and hid in Hyde Park. “I was in shreds emotionally, physically, mentally,” she said. Akbar summoned her back to Mumbai after which she left the job and joined Dow Jones in New York. “Today, I am a US citizen. I am a wife and mother. I found my love for journalism again. I picked up my life, piece by piece. My own hard work, perseverance and talent led me from Dow Jones to Business Week, USA Today the Associated Press and CNN. Today, I’m a leader at National Public Radio. I know that I do not have to succumb to assault to have a job and succeed. “Over the years, I have not brought up Akbar in conversations. I’ve always felt that Akbar is above the law and justice doesn’t apply to him. I felt he would never pay the price for what he had done to me,” she said. He has called these allegations “baseless and wild” and has filed a lawsuit against one of the journalists who have spoken out, she said. “It doesn’t surprise me. He feels he is entitled to make up his own version of ‘truth’ today, just like he felt entitled to our bodies then,” Gogoi added. (PTI)]]>

Akbar sues Priya Ramani for Defamation

Priya Ramani, the journalist to first name M.J. Akbar, has said “truth is the best defence” and she is not worried about the possibility of a defamation case.https://t.co/naH7dkZMqp

— The Telegraph (@ttindia) October 15, 2018 Whilst it is apparent that the accused has resorted to a series of maliciously serious allegations which she is diabolically and viciously spreading in media, it is also apparent that false narrative against the complainant (Akbar) is being circulated in a motivated manner for the fulfilment of an agenda, the complaint said. It termed as “scandalous” the allegations made by Ramani against Akbar and said “very tone and tenor” are ex-facie defamatory and they have not only damaged his goodwill and reputation in his social circle but also affected Akbar’s reputation in the community and friends, family and colleagues and caused irreparable loss and tremendous distress. The complaint, filed through advocate Sandeep Kapur, seeks issuance of notice to Ramani under Section 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 500 of the IPC provides that an accused may be awarded two years jail term or fine or both in the event of conviction. Hours after returning from a trip to Africa, Akbar had termed allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by several women as “false, fabricated and deeply distressing” and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them. Akbar’s name cropped up on social media when he was in Nigeria. The women, who accused Akbar of sexual harassment, included Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul. (PTI) ]]>

#MeToo: Akbar To Brazen It Out, Won't Quit

Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped in to a frenzy “Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action,” he said. Terming the entire situation as distressing, Akbar said, “Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped in to a frenzy.” Over the last few days, multiple women have come out with accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Akbar when he was a journalist as the #MeToo movement swept social media, bringing to fore claims of sexual harassment by influential men in different walks of life. The women who accused Akbar of sexual harassment include Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul, among others. Akbar sought to give a point by point rebuttal to their charges, saying while some of the accusations are totally, “unsubstantiated hearsay” others confirm, on record, that “I didn’t do anything”. “It is pertinent to remember that both Ms Ramani and Ms Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; this clearly establishes that they had no apprehension and discomfort. The reason why they remained silent for decades is very apparent: as Ms Ramani has herself stated, ‘he never did anything’,” Akbar said. Elaborating further, the MoS external affairs said a campaign against him was started by Ramani a year ago with a magazine article.  “She did not however name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied in a tweet, never named him because he did not do anything,” Akbar said. “If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There is no story. This was admitted at the very inception. But a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that has never happened,” he said. Similarly, Akbar said Shutapa Paul also stated that the “man never laid a hand on me” while Shuma Raha also clarified “he didn’t actually ‘do’ anything”.  He said that Anju Bharti’s claim that he was partying in a swimming pool was “absurd” as “I do not know how to swim”. Among all the allegations, Akbar, in elaborate detail, countered Wahab’s charges terming them as false, motivated and baseless. The minister said he worked with her only at The Asian Age newspaper, whose editorial team then worked out of a small hall and he had a very tiny cubicle. The tables and chairs of other colleagues at the office were just two feet away from his cubicle, he said. “It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless,” Akbar said. Responding to Wahab’s claim that she complained to Veenu Sandal, who wrote features for the paper, Akbar said Sandal described her (Wahab’s) version as “nonsense” in an interview to an English daily and also said she never heard in 20 years anybody accusing him of any such thing. Asserting that the women remained silent for decades because he never did anything, the editor-turned-politician said, “this is the reason why no one went to the authorities for so long, because I had done nothing”. Demands for Akbar’s removal were made by some political parties, after his name cropped up on social media as part of the #MeToo movement. While the CPI(M) and the Shiv Sena demanded Akbar’s resignation, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had said the #MeToo campaign is a “very big issue”. He has not commented on Akbar directly. (PTI)]]>