In the latest hearing on MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against Priya Ramani, the BJP leader’s lawyer argued that the journalist had taken the law into her own hands by talking about her alleged sexual harassment on social media instead of seeking a legal remedy.
Picking up from where she had left in the on December 24, Akbar’s counsel, Geeta Luthra, maintained that the witnesses produced by her had established that the former editor and union minister had an “unblemished” reputation until Ramani publicly accused him of sexual harassment in late 2018.
The case is being heard afresh after it was transferred from judge Vishal Pahuja to Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Pandey in November.
“I will re-emphasise that the issue before the court is Akbar’s reputation, which was blemished by the accused, and Akbar having or not having a reputation is neither here nor there,” Luthra argued. She didn’t have to address the question of Ramani’s reputation because it wasn’t germane to the case, she added.
All news reports on allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar were based on Ramani’s tweet, Luthra said, so she was primarily to blame for maligning the former editor’s reputation. “All articles whether in Washington Post dated October 10, or in Live Mint dated October 12, or Firstpost’s report published on October 14, are based on allegations against the complainant by the accused therein.”
Ramani’s counsel, Rebecca John, had tried to show that it was Akbar who targeted Ramani, Luthra argued, but it was actually Ramani who had targeted the former minister.
By tweeting about her alleged harassment by Akbar after nearly 30 years without proof instead of going to the court, Ramani had expressed her “non-belief” in the Indian legal system and taken the law into her own hands, Luthra said.
“Ramani in her cross-examination admitted that ‘women have tried the due process in India but I have no faith in due process’. Due process was available to women in India for very long. But have you availed due process even today? No, and it was available,” she continued. “This is disrespecting India’s legal system. “
Akbar, on the other hand, believes in due process, Luthra said. “There is the sanctity of law. It is on her to prove the misconceived allegations for which she goes to a public platform and does not take discourse to due process.”
Reiterating that Akbar’s “stellar reputation” was tarnished by Ramani, Luthra said thousands of people had worked with Akbar but there was not a whisper for nearly 50 years and nobody cast a blemish on his reputation until Ramani’s allegations. “Reputation is a day by day, minute by minute, brick by brick-built structure. It takes one second to destroy it and 50 years to build it.”
The next hearing is on January 12.