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World

Web Desk
February 18, 2021

#MeToo: India acquits journalist in defamation case

World

Web Desk
Thu, Feb 18, 2021
India.com/Files

  • Indian journalist Priya Ramani in 2018 alleged that former home minister MJ Akbar had sexually harassed her during a meeting a hotel room
  • India's Ex-Union Minister MJ Akbar loses defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani
  • "Even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser," Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Pandey told Delhi court

India has acquitted a journalist in a defamation case filed by a former Indian minister on Wednesday, international media outlets reported. 

A court in New Delhi ruled that former Union Minister MJ Akbar's libel claims could not be proven after he filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, who had accused him of sexual harassment back in 2018 when the #MeToo movement spread across the world, giving survivors of sexual misconduct the confidence to call out their abusers.

As the #MeToo movement globally took off in 2018, Ramani had alleged that the former home minister sexually harassed her during a meeting a hotel room. Akbar had then resigned from his post — but remains a member of the upper house, the Rajya Sabha — and initiated legal proceedings against the journalist in October 2018.

Ramani, he had claimed, "intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated and salacious" allegations him. He also denied similar allegations by other women.

Akbar's decision to step down as the minister of state for external affairs in 2018 came following sexual misconduct accusations from more than a dozen other women.

However, the Delhi court on Wednesday acquitted Ramani of any defamation, observing that "society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims".

“Even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser,” Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey told the Delhi court as he acquitted Ramani.

"This is a big moment for the #MeToo movement," the journalist said as she exited the courtroom smiling after the verdict, according to The Wire reporter Ismat Ara.

"I hope it will make more women speak up. And discourage powerful men from stopping women from speaking their truth," she was quoted as saying by IndiaSpend journalist Anoo Bhuyan.

The verdict by the Delhi court has been hailed as a victory for India’s #MeToo movement, in which Akbar — a veteran editor who founded many publications — was one of the highest profile figures to be accused.

The journalist's decision to go public with her accusations against Akbar was lauded by Indian women’s rights activists for lending strength to the country’s #MeToo movement, which began in 2018.

"We won this," the #MeTooIndia handle run by journalist Rituparna Chatterjee posted on Twitter after the verdict.

Bar & Bench, a Twitter account that posts news about law and lawyers, live-tweeted the proceedings.

"Right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity," it wrote in a Twitter thread.

Ramani had called out Akbar in a Vogue India article, giving the confidence to almost 20 more women in coming forward and speaking up about how the minister had allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career.

Several powerful men from the worlds of media, entertainment, and the arts accused in it have faced fallout since then, including ousters.

But activists say more needs to be done to encourage women to come forward to report sexual misconduct and the movement has had little impact in India’s remote and rural areas where sex crimes still largely go unreported.