A Delhi court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar.
Reading out the verdict, Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey ruled that the case of complainant is not proved and added that a woman has the right to put her grievance even after decades.
"Right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity," Judge Pandey said reading out the verdict to a packed courtroom
"Woman has right to put her grievance even after decades," the order read.
The court said that in isolation, the tweets and articles would be defamatory but accepted that the truth in this case was Ramani's defence.
Speaking after the verdict was passed, Ramani said, "I feel vindicated. It feels amazing to have your truth validated in the court of law."
"This battle hasn't just been about me, it has been about women who spoke up before me and after me. This was an apt judgement. My victory will definitely encourage more women to speak up and it will also make powerful men think twice before they take victims to court" Ramani added.
"The judgement has validated all those who have taken a stand in the MeToo movement", senior advocate Rebecca John, who represented Ramani, said.
"It has been trying because of the disruption it is has caused. Once she chose to do this, we backed her fully. We knew how important this was. I am enormously relieved. But the fact is that this judgement will now act as a deterrent to other sexual abusers. So I am very proud of her. Judgement was worth every moment and disruption over the last two years," Ramani's husband Samar Halarnkar said.
On February 10, the court had reserved its orders on Akbar's plea which was filed two years ago. The Ramani-Akbar case is important as it set the discourse and discussion for the #MeToo movement in India.
In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement — kickstarted by allegations of sexual harassment by Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein — in the United States of America, Ramani had written an article for Vogue titled "To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World", about sexual predators at workplace. In the article, Ramani had described her ordeal during a job interview almost 20 years ago without naming anybody. However, in a subsequent tweet published in 2018, Ramani said she was referring to Akbar, her former boss, in the Vogue article.
Akbar filed a criminal defamation case following the tweet asserting that Ramani's allegations were false and it impacted his "stellar reputation". Two days later, when multiple women backed Ramani's claims, Akbar resigned as the union state minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ramani's claim fictitious and cost stellar reputation: Akbar
"Akbar's stellar reputation was tarnished and harmed. He didn't do anything but the news that called him a sexual predator continued to spread," senior advocate Geeta Luthra had argued for Akbar.
Akbar had an "impeccable reputation" and a "long and illustrious career". "For some people, the reputation is more important than life itself. It would be true for someone who has, step by step, from the '60s put in hard work in building his reputation," Luthra had argued in court.
Since Ramani had already shared her ordeal in the Vogue article, there was no reason to subsequently "name and blame…and that's where your malice comes from", Luthra had said. "That is why there's no good faith," she had added.
Journalists Veenu Sandal and Jyotika Basu, along with communications consultant Tapan Chakki and Akbar's neighbour Sunil Grover testified as character witnesses.
Truth is my defence: Ramani
"The imputation is the truth. You cannot look at defamation in isolation and shut your eyes to the rest of the world and pretend nothing is happening. Truth is painful, truth is bitter," senior advocate Rebecca John had argued in Ramani's defence.
"Truth is my defence," she argued when Delhi Court granted her bail. Throughout the hearing, Ramani had maintained that her disclosures were "made in good faith, in public interest, and for public good".
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