Senior Journalist and author Ghazala Wahab gave her statements before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja today in MJ Akbar's criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani.
Wahab narrated in detail the instances of continued sexual harassment, allegedly committed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar, when she was working at the Asian Age. She had written about these in a publication last year.
The chief examination started with Wahab giving an overview of her professional and educational background.
In the middle of that, Senior Counsel Geeta Luthra raised an objection on Wahab giving a detailed account of her professional background. She said such a statement can't be admissible under sections 6 and 9 of Evidence Act, as it's neither a fact in issue, or closely connected to a relevant fact.
A series of continued objections by Luthra on Wahab's statements being irrelevant to the case, led to a series of arguments being made by Ramani's counsel, Rebecca Mammen John, who submitted judgments to the court wherein the accused was allowed to present his narrative to establish a defence of truth in defamation cases.
John further argued that it's wrong for Luthra to dictate her as to how to examine the defence witness. She said that the complainant witnesses made sweeping statements celebrating the reputation of MJ Akbar, but a defence witness is not being allowed to share her story.
After an elongated argumentation on the relevance of Wahab's statements, the Magistrate overruled Luthra's objections and noted the following:
'Admissibility or relevance of evidence will be appreciated at a later stage. Right now, the defence has liberty to have its own line of examination to establish its case.'
After this, Wahab began to share her alleged encounters of sexual harassment with Akbar. She said that her desk was placed right outside Akbar's office, who always used to keep his office door open, except during meetings. 'I was once working on my computer when I realised that he was staring at me', she told the court.
She went on to say that Akbar started sending her personal messages through Asian Age intranet, and then asked her to come to his office. As she entered, he asked her find a word from the dictionary which was kept so low that one had to either bend or squat to open it.
'As I squatted to look for the word, Akbar came from beyond and held my waist. He started running his fingers from my breasts to my thighs. He held his back against the door to prevent it from opening. As I resisted, he held me tightly and pressed his thumb against my breasts' she informed the court.
She added that after that she had another incident of sexual harassment in his office, where he tried to kiss her on her lips. She said she felt numb and ran out crying.
Further, when she informed someone in office about the incident, that lady told her that she's not surprised by this behaviour and there's only little she could do about it. That colleague also told her that it's her fault and she should've been more careful.
Wahab highlighted in her examination that there was no redressal mechanism at Asian Age to deal with instances of sexual harassment by male bosses or colleagues. Therefore, she messaged Akbar about her disapproval of his behaviour. She told him that such behaviour was unwelcomed and unacceptable.
In the reply she had received, Akbar had told her that he had genuine feelings for her. Later, she was informed that Akbar had planned to send her to run the Features Department in Ahmedabad. He had told her that company would provide her with an apartment, where he would also come and visit her.
Wahab told the court that at this stage she decided that she has to quit the job. On the day of leaving for Ahmedabad, she stayed at home and sent her resignation letter to Akbar's personal secretary. She got a call from Akbar, and she was so afraid of him coming to get house, that she immediately took a train to Agra.
She said she didn't even inform her parents about the incident. As she was the first in her family to go out of Agra to work, she was afraid that her parents would never let her leave again.
She finally mentioned in her examination that she could not share her story in public before, considering the public status of Akbar. It is only during the MeToo Movement, that she finally found the courage to share her story.
She also informed that she never had any intention to pursue any legal remedy against Akbar.
During her examination, it was observed that the complainant's lawyers, including Ms Luthra, began to crackle and continued to giggle, when Wahab was sharing her instances of sexual harassment. After her examination, Luthra objected to all the statements made by Wahab during her examination as irrelevant, hearsay and inadmissible under sections 6 and 9 of Evidence Act.