The hearings on BJP leader MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani reached its culmination point on Wednesday with both parties summing up their arguments.
Concluding her arguments, Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra emphasised that not even an iota of the defendant’s arguments was true. “The onus is on her to prove each and every averment. She has not even filed any complaint or gone to any public authority. Instead, she went to social media and tweeted about the incident,” Luthra said, referring to Ramani’s allegation that Akbar had sexually harassed her in the early 1990s.
Luthra also reasoned that as a journalist she should have basic knowledge of the law, as the court says there is a duty to do proper research before you report on something. She reiterated that Ramani describing Akbar as “media’s biggest sexual predator” is defamatory.
She also submitted before the court that Ramani’s witness Niloufer Venkataraman was an interested witness and nothing happened “contemporaneous”, and the WhatsApp conversation between Ramani and her is “inadmissible”. Regarding Ramani’s other witness Ghazala Wahab, Luthra said that Wahab is not talking about this case. “She doesn’t link her story to this case. Three people repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it true.”
“She has not been able to show truth or good faith. It is malafide, deliberate maliciousness...she knowingly does everything and doesn’t apologise,” she concluded.
She added, “Whatever the defense that may be taken, the fact is that it cannot undo the harm done. Even a conviction can't undo the harm. In this case, the law should have its consequences.”
Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John refuted the plaintiff’s claims, saying that thedid not entirely refer to Akbar. “The article was titled To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World, the word Weinsteins denotes it to be plural.”
Quoting the article, she said, “'Then we will get you all one day.'; 'All these years later the world has changed, but your species is just the same.' Therefore, under no imagination, it can be argued that her article refers to her experience with Akbar.”
John also claimed that Ramani could have related the whole article to Akbar but she didn’t because that’s what happened. As a witness who respects the court, she specified that the first four paragraphs refer to him and not the rest, she said.
Regarding the allegation that Ramani plagiarised the article, John claimed that it was absurd. “They are representative samples, which she put in inverted commas. That’s not plagiarism. Let’s not get carried away,” she said.
“By calling it fictitious you are undermining the sexual harassment that women go through at the workplace”, she added, clarifying that at the time article was published, Ramani was not working full-time for Vogue but freelancing.
John stated that at no stage did Ramani challenge Akbar’s journalistic competence. “The tweet by the complainant is a professional tweet. I can accuse someone of sexual harassment, and I could still say that person is a good lawyer, or doctor, etc,” she said, implying that there were “no contradictions” between the two positions.
John argued that the testimony of other women is very relevant, and hence Ghazala Wahab’s testimony adds merit to the case. Regarding Niloufer Venakatraman’s testimony, John said that it’s not hearsay, but is a piece of direct evidence. She clarified that under section 6 of the Evidence Act, her case is an exception to Res gestae.
The next hearing is slated for February 1 in which John will conclude her final arguments after which, within five days, the parties can give written submissions.