The M.J Akbar Vs Priya Ramani case is one that is a great victory for the #MeToo movement and provides legal backing for women who come out against the sexual abuse and harassment they faced, especially from those in positions of power.
MJ Akbar (pictured above) has been accused of sexual misconduct by various women.
The Court has set forward two legal precedents that will help anyone filing sexual harassment complaints. The first being that a delay in speaking out or taking legal action cannot be seen to discredit or lessen the allegations. The second being that “the right of reputation” cannot take precedence over the “right of life and dignity of a woman.”
“The woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.”
-Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey
Court accepts Ramani's contention that she only got the courage to speak up years later.
It can't be ignored that most of the times the offense of sexual harassment takes place inside closed doors and the victim may not understand what is actually happening to them.
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) February 17, 2021
Ramani wrote an article for Vogue India in 2017 titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins Of The World”, detailing her experiences of sexual harassment at the workplace. On October 8, 2018, Ramani named Akbar in a tweet referencing him to be the abuser in this article.
A week later, MJ Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against the journalist, the basis of the case then being his “reputation” which was affected by Ramani allegedly defaming him by alleging sexual misconduct decades ago.
MJ Akbar denied the allegations of meeting Ramani at the Oberoi hotel and also other allegations, such as harassing an intern at the Asian Age in 2006-2007.
The case lasted for two years, with many other women coming out against MJ Akbar, and its conclusion is an important milestone in the #metoo movement in India. Many are supporting and celebrating the court’s decision because of what it means for women trying to speak up against sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse they faced, especially from those in positions of power.
Just to put things in perspective, we're rejoicing that Priya wasn't punished for her truth. That's how dire it is. This is a victory & it's an emotional moment. It's also a time to urge courts to take a harder look at how defamation suits are used as weapons to intimidate women
— #MeTooIndia (@IndiaMeToo) February 17, 2021
When it comes to silencing women who speak out, the two tools that the perpetrator has in India are filing for defamation and the patriarchy inherent in Indian society. Both of these often work in tandem with each other.
A defamation suit is a weapon in the hands of a perpetrator because it allows them to A)refute the allegation and make the victim a perpetrator, B) in the case of Priya Ramani and MJ Akbar and other similar cases, there are clear imbalances in power and financial dynamics that can be exploited by the perpetrator.
The societal question also comes into play here, where those who face sexual abuse are made taboo and ostracized in Indian society, including their own family in many cases. In conjunction with the #MeToo movement, women took to making allegations online for a variety of reasons, including the fact that formal allegations would lead to the brunt of patriarchal society coming down on them.
Here, threats by the perpetrator to file a defamation case will lead to the victim being forced to silence themselves, because of the taboo associated with sexual harassment in the patriarchal set-up that is India. This is something that particularly affects younger women or those harassed or abused under skewed power dynamics.
The court also pointed out the need for society to understand the implications of sexual harassment and abuse on the victims. They pointed out that well-respected people with families and friends can also be abusers.
The court also pointed out that the victim has the right to make the allegations on any platform, be it through legal means or social media. In the case of Priya Ramani, the allegations were made through Twitter.
In conclusion, we need to celebrate the MJ Akbar Vs Priya Ramani case’s judgment as a victory for the #MeToo movement, a victory for the courage of women and victims speaking up about sexual misconduct, and a victory against capitalist classist tools of silencing victims by rich and influential abusers in India.