JOURNALIST Priya Ramani told a Delhi court on Friday that former Union Minister MJ Akbar had filed “false and malicious” defamation case against her to instil “a chilling effect” in women—who have started sharing their stories of sexual harassment at the workplace in the wake of #MeToo movement.
“I spoke the truth. My tweet was not malafide, in bad faith, deeply offensive, maligning and spun out of lies,” Ramani told court, deposing before the trial court in the criminal defamation case filed by former BJP minister and editor Akbar after she accused him of sexual harassment.
Speaking for the first time in the court, she stood her ground on allegations against the former editor, Akbar. In her statement to the court she emphasised that “my defence is the truth spoken in public interest. It is only now that sexual harassment at workplace is regarded as a serious offense.”
It is false that MJ Akbar has an impeccable reputation, she told the court.
“It is unfortunate that women who experienced sexual harassment at the workplace must now defend themselves in criminal proceedings for speaking their truth,” she said, before adding that “…by deliberately targeting me, Akbar seeks to divert the attention away from the serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him and the public outrage that followed.”
“My tweets did not become the basis of articles in internationally known newspapers and websites. The complainant is deliberately singling out my tweets. The articles were in fact based on collective accounts of many women who spoke up about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar,” she said.
Narrating the events, she said : “I was 23 when MJ Akbar, the editor of a soon to be launched Asian Age newspaper called me to his hotel for a job interview. When I got there, I had expected the interview to be in the lobby or the coffee shop…but Akbar insisted that I come up to his room. I was young, it was my first job interview, I didn’t know how to refuse. I didn’t know that I could set the terms of my interview.”
“When I reached his room, it was an intimate space, essentially his bedroom.. I was deeply uncomfortable, felt unsafe at Mr Akbar’s repeated, inappropriate personal questions, his offer of an alcoholic beverage, his loud singing of songs, his invitation to sit close to him,” she said, adding that “Later that night, I called my friend Nilofer and told her what had happened.”
She further said in October 2017, the #MeToo movement in America emboldened countless women and share their experiences of sexual harassment at workplace. “In this context, I wrote a piece for Vogue magazine.”
She also told the court that Akbar’s witnesses in the case were motivated as they were his “confidants”.
The court will next hear the matter on September 7.