Final arguments in the criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister and BJP Rajya Sabha MP M J Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani over her sexual harassment allegations against the former during the #MeToo movement started on Friday before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Rouse Avenue Courts, Delhi.
Senior Advocate Geetha Luthra, appearing for Akbar, argued that the statements by Ramani had damaged the reputation of Akbar, so as to attract the offence of criminal defamation under Sections 499/500 of the Indian Penal Code.
The controversy pertains to an article written by Ramani in October 2017, where she stated that she had to face sexual harassment from her boss at work, who was left unnamed in the article. Almost a year later, during the global 'MeToo' movement, Ramani alleged in social media that the person referred to in her article was M J Akbar. This snowballed into a controversy, leading to the eventual resignation of Akbar as Union Minister. The criminal defamation case was filed in October 2018.
Luthra termed Ramani's statements "salacious, malicious statements and ex-facie defamatory".
She submitted that Akbar had enjoyed impeccable reputation as a journalist, writer and editor. He has been associated with leading media houses for over forty years, and is married with two children. Despite having described in her article that he had "wonderful reputation", Luthra submitted, Ramani went on to depict him as a "predator".
Luthra then said that the allegations made after several years left Akbar without an opportunity to defend himself.
"There has to be some fairness. We can't be a social media country!", Luthra said.
So, till date, there was no reason for her to keep quiet. She doesn't say that she had no portal. The fact is that, why are you speaking up ? Are you speaking up genuinely ? Are you speaking up because of #MeToo movement ? Are you speaking up because he has become a Minister ?"— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) February 7, 2020
So, till date, there was no reason for her to keep quiet. She doesn't say that she had no portal. The fact is that, why are you speaking up ? Are you speaking up genuinely ? Are you speaking up because of #MeToo movement ? Are you speaking up because he has become a Minister ?"
The belated allegations are made with ulterior motives. The publication serves no public good. The fact that Priya Ramani did not take any legal action against him "belies the sanctity of the article and the allegations". It means that the allegations are merely a" figment of her imagination", Luthra continued
"The article is devoid of any sense of responsibility. How a person can, without care of the damage to the reputation, say something with elan and then say that he didn't do anything, and then say that "didn't do anything" part was sarcastic?", asked Geetha Luthra.
She then quoted from the testimonies of witnesses Veenu Sandal, Tapan Chaki, Sunil Gujral and Joyeeta Basu to demonstrate that Ramani's statements had lowered Akbar's reputation in the eyes of others.
His reputation had been "damaged, dragged through the mud and in tatters", said Luthra, quoting from the testimonies.
The hearing will continue of February 29.