Case Comment : M.J. Akbar vs Priya Ramani


This article has been written by Hasnain Raza Athar student at Jamia Millia Islamia.




Background


It is often seen that the women face the pain, torture and discrimination in our society, and they become more vulnerable when they go out of their homes to get a job, to fulfill their dreams, and to achieve their goals. Be it a film industry, a corporate, a call centre or any other place, people in a position are keen to show their paramountcy over the women and try to take unfair advantage of their dreams or problems. Ms Priya Ramani who is a well known journalist, was a victim of such incident and spoke about it. Following of what a case of defamation was filed against her under section 499 of IPC which states

“Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person”.

and so, in a case where she was a victim of sexual harassment, became accused of criminal defamation.


Facts of the case


M. J.Akbar, which is a great name in journalism and in politics was going to start a newspaper named “The Asian Age” for which there were job openings, heard of what Priya Ramani applied for the same and got a call of interview surprisingly in Oberoi hotel, Mumbai,where he used to stay, and not in the office or in workplace.

Ms Priya Ramani Reached there for interview, but what happened afterwards was horrifying, which was published by Ms Ramani in 2017 in the context of #metoo movement which was started in America when more than 90 womens accused Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment.


She wrote an article in vogue magazine titled “to the Harvey Weinstein of the world“ where without addressing anyone she explained everything about what had happened with her there in the Hotel. While explaining the incident she wrote that her boss had asked her if she is married, for drink, to sit beside him where there was no or very narrow place, sang a Hindi song for her. Ms Ramani also insisted that her boss used to use very assaultive words like “can I give you a massage” , “I am ready for a blowjob” etc. but in 2018 she disclosed in a tweet that it was Mr Akbar whom she was addressing to. The tweet was widely circulated ,consequently Mr Akbar resigned from his union ministerial post and filed a petition against Priya for criminal defamation.


Arguments made by the Appellant and the Respondent


It was argued by the appellant that the tweet made by Priya Ramani is a case of criminal defamation under section 499 of Indian Penal code, as it lowers the respect and the reputation earned by the complaint in years,

However, the respondent took “Truth” as a defence and argued that the statement made by Priya Ramani comes under the exceptions 1(it is not defamation if it is a ‘Truth’ and made for public good, 3(“It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question”, and 9(it is not a defamation if it is made to protect one’s or other’s interest) under section 499 of India Penal Code.


It was also argued by the appellant that the allegation were made in a bad faith to defame the complaint without any basis, thus, in order to malign the reputation of the appellant she spoke it on social media rather than using a legal remedy.

But the respondent argued that the idea was not to prosecute or seek legal remedies against Mr Akbar but to give courage other women to share their stories which is buried in their heart.



Disposition


The court upheld that a person has a right of reputation but not at the cost of women dignity which is protected under article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, the women can choose any platform to speak and time is not a bound here as argued by the complaint,

The court also said that it is not essential to touch someone inappropriately to sexual harass a women as complaint argued that “He didn’t do anything which was confirmed by Ms Priya”, it can be constituted even without touching.



Analysis


There are a few Question I am bothered about and I think those questions should have been answered, like why not anyone from Oberoi hotel was presented, were there Mr Akbar at that date or not, whether they were maintaining any diary or not, perhaps because this case was not of sexual harassment but of defamation so the court didn’t take it crucial to go into the profundity of these questions.

But the most questionable thing was citing of a script from “Balyamiki Ramayana , where Prince Laxman was asked to describe about Princess Sita, Prince Laxman answered that he remembers only her feet as he had never looked beyond her feet”.

It is totally fine when we talk about ancient times as that time was different and it was a matter of pride and honour, it is also great if it were being carried forward by any religious scholar, it is also okay if it is being practiced by some. but it is strange that a judge of the world’s largest democracy is beholding it as a matter of pride and honour in 21st century. What message we are conveying to the world peculiarly to Indians? Doesn’t it implies that we are not ready to accept gender differences? Doesn’t it signifies that we are suffering from gynophobia? Definitely it does, it is time to accept gender differences and make this society a safe place for women.


However, There cannot be any doubt that this is indeed a powerful judgment pronounced by the court of Law, because it protects the platforms and the social medias where women are speaking up against sexual harassment, which will set a good precedent , there is a long journey to go, a lot to achieve, a ton of things to do towards women empowerment, but still this judgment is a step forward in right direction, let’s celebrate.



Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Author,

NLR does not hold any liability arising out of this article.




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