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[Live Updates]: MJ Akbar defamation case against Priya Ramani – Day 9

[Live Updates]: MJ Akbar defamation case against Priya Ramani – Day 9

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 the first round of this can be read here and an account of the second round can be read here. The recording of Ramani’s statement will continue today. Following her examination-in-chief, Ramani will also be cross-examined by Akbar’s counsel, Geetha Luthra.

Live updates of today’s hearing follow. 

  • Court assembles. Court administers oath to Priya Ramani.
  • I spoke the truth when I disclosed my experience of my first job interview in the Vogue magazine and my tweets. It was/is important for women to speak up about sexual harassment at workplace. Many of us are brought up to believe that silence is a virtue, Ramani.
  • In all my disclosures, I spoke the truth in public interest and public good. It was my hope that the disclosures in the movement would empower women to speak up and to better understand their rights at the workplace, Ramani.
  • This case has come at a great personal cost to me. I have nothing to gain from it. I am a well regarded, respected journalist. I live a quiet life with my family in Bangalore. It’s not easy for many women to make such disclosures, Ramani.
  • By keeping silent, I could have avoided the subsequent targeting but that would not have been the right thing to do, Ramani.
  • Priya Ramani concludes her deposition. Cross Examination begins.
  • There are many journalists that I admire when I was doing my journalism, Priya Ramani answers a question put up by Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra, who appears for MJ Akbar.
  • Luthra: Can you tell us what magazines and newspapers did you read till you finished your studies? Ramani: I read TOI. In those days there were not too many newspapers in Bombay. I remember reading Busy Bee in the afternoon dispatch.. I also used to read the India Today Magazine…We also had access at St Xavier’s College to newspapers that were not published in Bombay such as Telegraph.
  • Luthra. From Jan 1994-Oct 1994, what articles did you write? Ramani: In Delhi, the paper hadn’t launched yet and we mainly did dry runs and I attended many political press conferences. When I moved to Bombay, I wrote many articles on Bombay Stock Exchange.
  • I don’t remember the specific headlines of these articles, Ramani.
  • Luthra: How many articles did you write and till when was the stock exchange on strike ? Ramani:. I wrote one article everyday. I do not remember for long the strike went.
  • Luthra:  Can you give me an exact number of articles that you wrote in that time period? And the headlines? Ramani: Can you give a calculator? I wrote one article each day except for Sundays.I don’t remember the exact headline.
  • I worked at Reuters for about three and a half years. I used to do multiple daily stock reports and a weekly stock market trend. But I now I cannot recall the specific headlines. I do not remember the date of when I joined Reuters, Ramani.
  • I do not remember the exact date of joining Elle magazine or any organization, Ramani.
  • Luthra: Name 5 prominent articles that you wrote in Elle Magazine. Ramani: By this time, I was deputy editor and my responsibilities manily included managing the team…and editing articles written by my juniors. I wrote lesser but I do have articles at home which I can produce later.
  • Luthra: Can you tell the exact date of joining Cosmopolitan magazine? Ramani: I was transferred from India Today to Cosmopolitan sometime in September 1999.
  • Luthra: Can you tell us five articles that you wrote?
  • Ramani: I wrote an article titled ‘Edit Note’ in every issue of Cosmopolitan when I was the Editor.
  • Luthra: I put to you that it would be a column and not an article. Ramani: Yes, it was not a news or features article.
  • Luthra: When did you finish your course and at the time of finishing, which places did you apply to for jobs apart from The Asian Age? Ramani: I finished my course in June 1993. I next did a fellowship at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Then I returned to Philadelphia.. I returned to Bombay in 1993. I those days there were not many job opportunities. I heard that TOI paid journalists Rs 1,000 and made then trainees no matter what their educational qualifications…Someone at the Xavier’s Institute of communications told me that the Asian Age was hiring and so I applied there first, Ramani.
  • Luthra: Would it be correct to say that knowing that your course was finishing in June 1993, you didn’t apply for any job before you completed your course or after you completed your course and returned to India and joined Asian Age? Ramani: No. I started with Asian Age.
  • Luthra: Would it be correct to say that there were many other well known prominent publication houses for magazines and newspapers in Bombay, Delhi and other cities at that time? Ramani: I dont know the exact details.
  • Luthra: I put to you that your so called dream of becoming a journalist was not contingent on being hired by The Asian Age. Ramani: It was not so called dream. Yes, the Asian Age was a good opportunity to realize this dream.
  • Luthra: If there had been no vacancy at that time in the Asian Age, would you gave stopped? Ramani: No.
  • Senior Advocate Rebecca John objects to the question as being hypothecal and speculative.
  • Luthra: I put to you that the reason you took up the job at Asian Age was that no such interview in the circumstances as alleged by you ever happened. Ramani: It is incorrect.
  • Luthra: I put to you that this is the reason why you never applied to any other publication. Ramani: It is incorrect.
  • Luthra: I put to you that more than 2 decades later you have maliciously and intentionally concocted this story to damage Mr Akbar’s reputation. Ramani: It is incorrect.
  • Luthra: I put to you that you published a piece of false news (her tweets). Ramani: It is incorrect.
  • Luthra: I put to you that you termed it as a “big victory” (for the movement). Ramani: Yes. My tweet was in response to a Firstpost article/tweet.
  • Senior Advocate Luthra objects to Priya Ramani answering questions in more than a “yes or no”. Judge: Let me tell you, if we don’t allow her to answer, the whole trial would be vitiated.
  • Proceedings to continue post lunch now.

Post Lunch Session

  • Court reassembles.
  • Luthra: Do you know that the criminal law of India including the IPC has always had a provision for sexual harassment since its enactment? Ramani:. I am not aware about the IPC provisions.
  • Luthra: I put to you that the criminal law in India has always had provisions for redressal of sexual harassment cases. Ramani: I am not aware.
  • Luthra: I put to you that in 1997, the Supreme Court pronounced a judgement.. with regard to sexual harassment at workplace titled Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan. Ramani: I know there are Vishakha guidelines.
  • Luthra: Are you aware that in 2012, there was a Bill in Parliament with respect to the prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace. Ramani: I am aware. The anti-sexual harassment law came into effect in 2013.
  • Luthra: I put to you that a redressal mechanism for sexual harassment existed prior to 2013 also under the Indian law. Ramani: I am not aware of other redressal mechanism prior to Vishakha.. I am aware of the Vishakha Case and the sexual harassment law passed in 2013.
  • Luthra: Would it be correct to say that in 2013 many women in India had spoken up about various allegations against men.. Ramani: I remember that after Nirbhaya gang rape case in 2012, women did speak about violence against themselves..
  • Luthra: Do you know whether there was an allegation against a former Editor in Chief of a prominent magazine (Tehelka case). Ramani: Yes.
  • Luthra: Do you know that there were other allegations of sexual harassment against other men in the workplace in 2013? Ramani: I need to know the specifics to answer this question.
  • Luthra: Was there a movement of people so called having ‘found their voice’ and speaking up in 2013. Ramani: Many women spoke up after the Nirbhaya case. It may have been described as finding their voice in media reports.
  • Luthra: Did you write an article titled “Sorry Boss, we found our voice” in 2013? Ramani: I do not recall but I may have written it.
  • Priya Ramani is shown the article which was published by Mint. Yes, it is correct that I wrote this article, Ramani.
  • It is correct that in Nov 2013, when I wrote that article I had not made any allegations against Mr Akbar, Ramani.
  • Ramani: I put to you that Mr Akbar became a member of BJP in 2014. Ramani: Yes, I am aware.
  • Luthra: I put to you that Mr Akbar became a minister in July 2016. Ramani: It’s a matter of record.
  • Luthra: I put to you that you made these allegations against Mr Akbar for the first time only in 2018. Ramani: Yes, i named him in 2018.
  • It is wrong to suggest that I had made these allegations against Mr Akbar maliciously, deliberately, in bad faith to malign Mr Akbar, Ramani.
  • Luthra: I put to you that according to your 2013 article there were plenty of opportunities and platforms to speak out against any allegations of sexual harassment prior to 2018. Ramani: This is incorrect.
  • It is wrong to suggest that I did not make any allegations against Mr Akbar prior to 2013 as no such incident ever happened, Ramani.
  • It is wrong to suggest that I didn’t name Mr Akbar in my Vogue article since nothing happened, Ramani.
  • Luthra: I put it to you that the word “you” in the first paragraph of Vogue Article has been used by you for Mr Akbar. Ramani: Yes, I have already said so.
  • It is wrong to suggest that nowhere in my tweet or article have I made any clarification or explanation that the Vogue article made any distinction between allegations against Mr Akbar and others, Court records.
  • It is wrong to suggest that I have artificial distinction for purpose of creating a false defence in this defamation case, Court records on behalf of Priya Ramani.
  • It is wrong to suggest that the article and tweets are referring entirely to Mr MJ Akbar.
  • Luthra: I put to you that on its plain reading, it is clear that the article refers only to one person. Ramani: It is incorrect.
  • It is wrong to suggest that my tweets and article lowered the reputation of Mr Akbar in the estimation of the general public and right thinking members of society, Ramani.
  • Proceedings adjourned for the day. Matter to taken up next on October 24.