Senior Advocate Rebecca John concluded her final arguments today in the criminal defamation suit filed against Priya Ramani by BJP leader MJ Akbar. Akbar had filed the case in October 2018 after Ramani outed him during the #MeToo movement.
John began by stating that calling Ramani’s tweet defamatory ‘per se’ is a misplaced and legally unsustainable argument. She reiterated that imputation is not defamatory if made in the public good.
Contesting the second argument put forth by Luthra about the complainant being a prudent man, John said, “Test of a prudent man/woman, is applicable to defence and not to the complainant”.
John went on to explain why Ramani remained silent over the years. She argued that Priya Ramani could not speak up back in 1993 when the incident took place because there was a culture of silence, which was also pointed out by the defence witness, Gazala Wahab. Wahab had mentioned in her statement that there was no mechanism to take action against sexual harassment at The Asian Age then. John added that the Vishakha Guidelines only came about in 1997 and it was much later, in 2013 when it became a law. “Silence cannot refute Ramani’s truth,” argued John.
John then carried on to dismiss the claim made by Luthra according to which Ramani had joined a “bandwagon”. “There was an avalanche of revelations against Mr Akbar and Ramani was one of them. Assuming there was a bandwagon, why then only the complaint against Priya Ramani and not other women?” she said.
“This case is not about how hard Mr Akbar has worked,” John continued. “Before I met him, I admired him as a journalist and writer but his conduct with me in 1993 and other women are not justifiable,” argued John on behalf of Ramani.
The complainant asked Ramani to prove her telephonic conversation with Nilofer Venkatraman (also a defence witness) in 1993, before and after the December hotel incident when MJ Akbar allegedly sexually harassed her during a job interview. John retorted saying everyone knew that records of landline conversations in 1993 do not exist. She also pointed that the Whatsapp conversation which was put forth by the defence was objected to, even when Venkataraman was ready to show the conversation. John said when the actual physical message could be shown then there was no need for secondary evidence.
John claimed that she had proved her case with Ramani’s testimony and the testimony of other witnesses, including Nilofer Venkataram, Gazala Wahab and Akbar’s own admission of his relationship with Pallavi Gogoi. “My witnesses are of stellar quality,” said John to the court.
She concluded her arguments by saying that the Freedom of Speech and Expression as listed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution is critical and intrinsic to a democratic society, and that Priya Ramani has been able to show the truth and the public good of her statements made in the public domain. John said Ramani was a small part of a large, nationwide and global movement that uncovered the pervasive nature of sexual harassment at the workplace. The #MeToo movement revealed the prevalence and normalisation of sexual harassment at the workplace with hundreds and thousands of women across the world participating in it, she added.
Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra will present her rebuttals on October 13 and 15.