India’s #MeToo movement made its way to the courtrooms on a pleasantly windy Monday morning as journalist Priya Ramani—who had called out former Union Minister MJ Akbar for sexual misconduct—appeared before ACMM Samar Vishal at a Patiala House Court with regards to a defamation suit filed against her by Akbar.
The hearing, scheduled to begin at 10 am, was to take place in Courtroom Number 16. At 9:23 am, a beaming Ramani, along with four other women friends, industry colleagues and her lawyer, entered through Gate Number 6 at the Patiala House Court premises. They got out of their car on the main road—one that was devoid of any cameras this early in the morning—except for a solitary cameraman trying to set up his equipment on the divider on the main road outside the court complex.
Wearing a white salwar kameez with a red dupatta and a grey jacket, Ramani made her way past the makeshift temple located under the banyan tree as soon as you enter Gate Number 6. With time remaining for the doors to open to the main building, the group sat under the shade of the banyan tree, engaged in animated conversation. Minutes before the doors to the main building opened, one of the women with Ramani asked her to smile for a picture. Ramani held up her index and middle finger in a V-shape—the victory or peace symbol—but her friend jokingly told her not to and she obliged.
Within minutes, the initial group of five was joined by many others, most of them journalists who had come to wish her good luck and stand in solidarity by her side. Some hugged Ramani, others walked up to her and shook her hand.
There was no sign of worry or tension.
Ramani at Patiala House Court this morning.
At 9.40 am, Ramani and a couple of the women she arrived with walked through the main door of the building, making their way towards Courtroom Number 16 located immediately on the other side of the door. The room was small, with newly painted white walls and bright white tube lights. A handful of chairs were lined up against the wall on one side of the room, opposite the judge’s table. Ramani’s friends and colleagues sat here while she leaned against the adjoining wall, arms folded, talking to one of them.
The room began to swell with numerous lawyers and court personnel making their way to their designated spaces. A handful of journalists took the small cubicle located at the far end of the tiny room. At 9.51 am, India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai entered the already-packed courtroom, dressed in a checkered purple shirt and khaki pants. He nodded at a few in the room, smiled at the others, and exchanged a few words with Ramani as he stood near the door, leaning against the same wall as her.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, a tall man with black-rimmed spectacles, entered the courtroom at 10:02 am. He did a customary namaste to the people present as he took his chair and asked for all relevant documents and evidence files to be put on his table. Ramani, along with senior advocate Rebecca John, approached him, as did Akbar’s counsel.
John informed the ACMM that she would be filing for bail for her client Priya Ramani. This was granted to her on a surety of a personal bond of ₹10,000. Following this, John, on behalf of her client, moved an application for exemption from personal appearance on the grounds that she (Ramani) is a Bangalore resident and that she had a daughter at home.
This was immediately opposed by Akbar’s counsel. “Your client is not even here,” John told the opposing counsel, to which the response came that he (Akbar) was not required to be here by law. “In any case, the complainant should be here,” said John.
Telling the ACMM that they would be filing a reply to Ramani’s application for exemption from personal appearance, Akbar’s counsel told John: “Let’s reserve the personal comments for the hearing.” The court then posted the matter for April 8 when arguments would most likely be heard regarding exemption from personal appearance.
This entire exchange took place within eight minutes after which Ramani and her lawyers, friends, and supporters exited the courtroom, leaving ACMM Samar Vishal at his table with the slightest hint of a smile on his face. However, a few minutes after heading out of the courtroom, Rebecca John approached Akbar’s counsel and asked whether the date could be moved to April 9 instead. Akbar’s counsel said April 9 would not be possible and they agreed to ask the court to push it to April 10—which was agreed to as the next date it would hear the arguments regarding exemption of Ramani’s appearance.
Ramani and company made their way to Bikaner House for a cup of coffee and some food but was approached by a hoard of cameramen as soon as they exited the court premises. “Truth is my defence,” she told them and walked on.