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[Live Updates]: MJ Akbar defamation case against Priya Ramani – Day 8

[Live Updates]: MJ Akbar defamation case against Priya Ramani – Day 8

Bar & Bench

The hearing in the defamation case brought by Former Union Minister MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani in connection with sexual harassment allegations made by her is currently underway at the  Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate.

Ramani had pleaded not guilty in the case initiated by MJ Akbar back in October 2018.

MJ Akbar approached the Patiala House Court under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, terming the sexual harassment allegations levelled against him as “false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous”.

Senior Advocate Rebecca John is representing Priya Ramani. Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra and Advocate Sandeep Kapur (Senior Partner, Karanjawala & Co) are appearing for MJ Akbar.

Read an account of the first round of cross-examination of MJ Akbar on May 4 here, the second round on May 20 here. and the third round on July 6 here.

Read an account of the first round of examination of witnesses produced on behalf of Akbar on July 15 here, the second round of examination on July 17 here and the third round of examination on August 2 here.

On August 23, the Court started recording Priya Ramani’s statement. An account of this hearing can be read here.

Live updates of today’s hearing follow. 

  • Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal to assemble soon to hear MJ Akbar’s defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani. Court to record the statement of Defence witnesses today.
  • Priya Ramani to testify as the first defence witness.
  • Court administers the oath to Priya Ramani.
  • I have been a journalist for 25 years, Priya Ramani begins her statement by detailing her educational background. I graduated in 1991. In August that year, I went to the US for a masters in journalism.., Ramani.
  • After I returned, I worked at many news organisations as a journalist. My first job was at Asian Age from Jan-Oct 1994, Ramani.
  • I then joined Reuters as an equity correspondent covering south Asian stock markes. Next, I became a deputy editor at Elle, a lifestyle magazine, Ramani.
  • Next I worked at India Today magazine as a special correspondent. I then became the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1999, Ramani.
  • Next, I joined the Indian Express as Associate Editor and National Features Editor. In 2007 I was part of team of founding editors of Mint newspaper where I worked for 8 years.., Ramani.
  • After Mint, I joined digital publishing start-up Juggernaut Books as commissioning editor. These days, I write a weekly column for Mint Lounge, contribute to Vogue magazine and many other news websites, Ramani.
  • I live in Bangalore with my nine year old daughter, my husband and down the road from my aging in-laws, Ramani.
  • I came back from the US in November 1993 and began looking for a job in journalism. I heard that MJ Akbar, a famous editor, whom I had grown up reading and who was one of my professional heros was starting an international daily newspaper, Ramani.
  • I went to the office in Mumbai to hand in my resume and check if they had any vacancies. It was about a month after I returned, Ramani.
  • MJ Akbar happened to be visiting that day from Delhi and I met him. He asked me to come to The Oberoi Hotel for an interview at 7 pm on the same day. I said okay and left, Ramani.
  • I caught a bus back to my home in South Bombay. It was very close to my The Oberoi Hotel. I called my friend, Niloufer Vekatraman, Ramani.
  • Niloufer and I had met in 1988 at an evening course in St Xavier’s, Mumbai. We became friends and had stayed friends since, Ramani.
  • In fact, when I went to Temple University, I stayed with her before I found an accomodation, Ramani.
  • We met there often and we even came back to Bombay together on Nov 13, 1993, Ramani.
  • Ramani shows a copy of her passport to show her arrival in India.
  • Niloufer used to work out of her mother’s travel agency in Nariman Point, Mumbai, five mins away from The Oberoi Hotel.
  • I called her on the landline and asked her if she could meet at 6pm and help me prepare for the interview. She agreed, Ramani.
  • I took a bus to Nariman Point and reached Niloufer’s mother’s office. We walked out to the Marine drive sea face and discussed possible interview questions and my salary expectations. She even quizzed me on current affairs, Ramani.
  • At 7 pm she dropped me at The Oberoi. When I reached the lobby I looked around expecting to see MJ Akbar in the lobby, Ramani.
  • I couldn’t spot him so I asked the reception to connect me to Mr Akbar. He came on the line and asked me to come up to his room, Ramani.
  • I was silent, hesitant. Mr Akbar reiterated that I should come up to his room, Ramani.
  • This is not what I expected. I thought the interview would be in the coffee shop or in the lobby. But I was 23. I didn’t have the confidence to say “no, I’ll wait for you in the lobby”, Ramani.
  • I didn’t feel like I could dictate the terms of the interview. I was uncomfortable but I went up, Ramani.
  • I rang his room bell. Mr Akbar answered and I entered, Ramani.
  • The room was his bedroom. It was small, enclosed. The bed was turned down for the night. There was small two-seater sofa near the bed. There was a big window and I could see that it was sea facing room, Ramani.
  • There were two chairs and a small table adjacent to the window and we sat there. I felt ill at ease to be in such an intimate space for a professional interview, Ramani.
  • I was acutely aware that I was alone in this room with him. He asked me why I had gone to the US to study journalism, Ramani.
  • I replied that it was my dream to be journalist, that this job was important to me especially since it was my first job, Ramani.
  • He then asked many personal questions. He wanted to know if I was married. I said no. I wanted to know if I had a boyfriend. I replied no. He asked me many questions about my family. I told him that they were keen that I had an arranged match, Ramani.
  • He offered me an alcoholic beverage from the mini bar. I refused. He got up and made himself a drink. I think it was vodka, Ramani.
  • He asked me about my music preferences. When I replied, he stared singing old hindi songs to me, Ramani.
  • I felt extremely uncomfortable at all these inappropriate personal questions. We did not discuss my writing skills, my knowledge of current affairs or any other journalism related question, Ramani.
  • Then he moved to the small two seater sofa next to the bed and gestured to me to come sit in the tiny space next to him, Ramani.
  • I was already feeling unnerved by his inappropriate behaviour. Now I was concerned for my physical safety. I knew I had to leave the room immediately, Ramani.
  • I got up and said I had to leave. As I was leaving, Mr Akbar said his office follow up about the job, Ramani.
  • I caught a taxi home and later that night from my landline I called Niloufer at her home landline and told her what had happened, Ramani.
  • She was shocked to hear about MJ Akbar’s behaviour. I told her I couldn’t tell me parents because they would ask me to refuse the job offer and I would have to give up my dream of being a journalist, Ramani.
  • We discussed whether I should even accept the job if I got it with such a man at the helm of the organisation, Ramani.
  • With our limited experience and the enthusiasm of youth, We reasoned that it was a newspaper and there would be many employees and the editor would be a busy man who wouldn’t have time for a new reporter, Ramani.
  • I swore I would never be alone with him in a room ever again, Ramani.
  • I was offered a job at the Delhi Office of The Assign Age as a correspondent and I began in 1994, Ramani.
  • After ten days of working in the Delhi Office, I asked the news editor for a transfer to Bombay. I was not able to find good accommodation and I thought I could save on rent by living with my parents, Ramani.
  • The transfer was accepted immediately. I moved to Bombay and within a fortnight of joining The Asian Age, I was working in the Bombay office, Ramani.
  • I never met MJ Akbar alone in the Delhi office or Bombay office ever again. We always interacted in the edit meetings.., Ramani.
  • Ramani places on record her visiting cards from Asian Age. Appearing for MJ Akbar, Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra objects to it. Objections to be decided by the Judge later.
  • I left in ten months to join Reuters. I never worked with MJ Akbar ever again, Ramani.
  • I wrote to the Vogue Magazine. Vogue’s Feature’s Editor called me and asked me if I could write an article about the behavior of male bosses in the context of the American #MeToo movement and the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Ramani.
  • The article ranged from calling women to hotel room and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and rape. While researching the article I couldn’t help but remember my personal story of my first male boss, Ramani.
  • So I began the article with my MJ Akbar story. I never named him. The first four paragraphs of the article were a brief account of what happened at The Oberoi Hotel in 1993, Ramani.
  • The rest of the article was about the behavior of a certain type of male boss in general and the specific allegation against Harvey Weinstein, Ramani.
  • In fact, the portions in quotation marks referred to specific allegations against Weinstein made by many women. I mainly read four articles about the sexual harassment charges against Harvey Weinstein, Priya Ramani.
  • These articles appear in New Yorker, The New York Times and Variety, Ramani.
  • The accusations in quotes in Vogue Article were about Harvey Weinstein and were sourced from these articles, Ramani.
  • The rest of the article was about the behaviour of a certain type of male boss in general and the specific allegation agaisnt Harvey Weinstein, Ramani.
  • In fact, the portions in quotation marks referred to specific allegations against Weinstein made by many women. I mainly read four articles about the sexual harrassment charges against Harvey Weinstein, Ramani.
  • These articles appear in New Yorker , The New York Times and Variety, Priya Ramani.
  • The accusations in quotes in Vogue Article were about Harvey Weinstein and were sourced from these articles, Ramani.
  • Court to reassemble post lunch.

Post Lunch Session

  • Court assembles.
  • Senior Advocate Rebecca John argues that the four articles on which Ramani relied upon to write the Vogue Article be exhibited.
  • Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra objects, says Ms Ramani is neither the author nor the editor of these four articles.
  • Judges marks and exhibits the documents for identification, defers the question of proving the documents till final arguments.
  • Ramani continues her statement. These were the articles I relied on to write about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Ramani.
  • I wrote the tweets dates Oct 8, 2018, Ramani.
  • Almost exactly a year after my Vogue article, the movement began gaining momentum on Twitter after Tanushree Dutta accused a colleague of sexual harassment at workplace, Ramani.
  • After this, many women from the fields of film, entertainment, stand up comedy began naming people who had sexually harassed them at work place, Ramani.
  • I saw and read all their tweets.. on Oct 5, 2018, journalists such as Sandhya Menon and Anoo Bhuyan called out editors they had worked with, Ramani.
  • On Oct 6, 2018, I saw a tweet by Force Magazine editor, Ghazala Wahab asking when the floodgates would open about Mr Akbar, Ramani.
  • On Oct 7, I saw that an author Shunali K Shroff had replied to Ghazala Wahab’s tweet saying she too had been wondering the same, Priya Ramani.
  • That same day, a journalist I worked with, Prerna Singh Bindra, a former member of the Wildlife Advisory Board of the GOI, tweeted about a “brilliant, flamboyant editor” who had called her to his hotel room late at night in her first job, Ramani.
  • Seeing all these women, I felt compelled to speak up about my experience with Mr MJ Akbar in 1993 and so I removed the anonyminity that I had given Mr Akbar in my Vogue article and named him as the editor who had sexually harassed me, Ramani.
  • I tweeted that I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. I have already explained that the first four paragraphs of the Vogue article were about the 1993 incident, Ramani.
  • I said I never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. I used the inverted commas to denote sarcasm, Ramani.
  • Sexual harassment can take any form. It can be physical or verbal. By saying that he didn’t “do” anything, I was honestly disclosing that there was no overt act but that didn’t excuse Mr Akbar’s sexually coloured behavior, Ramani.
  • Over the years, my colleagues have shared their significantly worse stories of their experiences with Mr Akbar. My tweet was to highlight the fact that we normalize sexual misconduct and unless it results in physical assult, we do not take it seriously, Priya Ramani.
  • A predator is more powerful than his prey, Ramani.
  • I used the word ‘predator’ to emphasize and highlight the difference in age, influence and power between Mr Akbar and myself. I was a young journalist, he was a famous Editor, 20 years older than me who called me to his bedroom in a hotel for a job interview, Ramani.
  • On the same day, I received a whatsapp message on my cellphone from Niloufer, Ramani. Judge asks Ramani to show the original message if she still has it. Ramani shows it to the Judge.
  • Luthra objects, argues it is inadmissible.
  • Judge says that the objection shall be decided at the time of final arguments.
  • T’ in the message is the daughter of Ms Niloufer, Ramani clarifies.
  • After the 8th, I tweeted again on October 10, 2018. I tagged 10 women who had spoken up against Mr Akbar in my tweet, Ramani.
  • Some tweeted immediately, some tweeted, some wrote articles, some used other social media platforms such an Medium to share their stories, Ramani.
  • They are Shuma Raha, Shutapa Paul, Ghazala Wahab, Harinder Baweja, Ruth David , Majlie Kamp, Saba Naqvi, Kadambari Wade, Kanika Gehlot, Pallavi Gogoi, Tushita Patel, Suparna Sharma, Swati.
  • Gautam Prerna Singh Bindra tweeted again naming Mr Akbar, Ramani.
  • I saw and read two pieces by Ghazala Wahab in The Wire, Ramani.
  • I also read an article at Betwa Sharma and Aman Sethi, Ramani.
  • On Oct 14, 2018, I found out through media reports that Mr Akbar had returned from his foreign tour. By this time, more than 12 women had spoken up about Mr Akbar…I read that Mr Akbar had handed in his resignation and hence I tweeted this. Later on, the news turned out to be false and Mr Akbar resigned a few days later, Ramani.
  • That same day, the Bruhan Mumbai union of journalists and the Network of Women in Media wrote a statement addressed to the President and PM supporting me, Ramani.
  • The statement is of the next day, Oct 15, Ramani corrects.
  • I learnt through media reports that Mr Akbar had filed a criminal defamation case against me. I issued a statement and posted it on my twitter account, Ramani.
  • On Oct 16, 2018, I read that 20 women who had worked at the Asian Age over the years had written a statement saying they were willing to testify on my behalf, Ramani.
  • Proceedings adjourned for the day. Matter to be taken up next on Monday.