Journalist Priya Ramani (Left) with her advocate Rebecca John at Delhi's Rouse Avenue District Court Complex after the verdict.
A Delhi court on Wednesday ruled that a woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades. The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman, it said while acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case filed against her by former union minister MJ Akbar.
"The court takes consideration of the systematic abuse at the workplace due to lack of the mechanism to redress the grievance of sexual harassment at the time of the incident of sexual harassment against the accused Priya Ramani and witness Ghazala Wahab…" the order read.
It noted that the incident in question was "prior to the issuance of Vishaka Guidelines" and "enactment of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 or their option to not lodge the complaint of sexual harassment due to the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment of women."
"It is shameful that the incidents of crime and violence against women are happening in the country where mega epics such as "Mahabarata" and "Ramayana" were written around the theme of respect for women," Judge Ravindra Pandey said in his order.
The court acquitted Ramani of defamation charges accepting the contentions made by her in the 2018 Vogue article titled "To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World". The court accepted the "the possibility of defence" that she spoke the truth regarding the 1993 incident on the basis of her testimony and its corroboration by Niloufer Venkatraman.
In 1993, Ramani alleged that Akbar sexually harassed her when she met him in his room at the Oberoi for a job interview.
The verdict in the MJ Akbar-Priya Ramani case put an end to a two-year-old saga which began with a 2018 Vogue article Ramani wrote where she referred to Akbar (without naming him) as a sexual predator and then outing him in a subsequent tweet months later.
Akbar not a "man of stellar reputation": Court
The court said that Akbar was not a man of stellar reputation based on the testimonies made by Ramani and journalist Ghazala Wahab. "Despite how well respected some persons are in the society, they in their personal lives could show extreme cruelty to the females," the court observed.
A woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against the sexual abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation, the court said. "The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implications on victims," the court said. "The society should understand that an abusive person is just like rest of the other person and he too has family and friends. He can also be well-respected person of the society. The victims of the sexual abuse not even speak a word about abuse for many years because sometimes she herself have no idea that she is a victim of abuse," it added.
The court further noted that a victim "may keep believing that she is at fault" and that they "may live with that shame for years or for decades". "Most of the women who suffer abuse do not speak up about it or against it for simple reason "The Shame" or the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment and abuse," the court added.
The sexual abuse, if committed against woman, takes away her dignity and her self-confidence. The attack on the character of sex abuser or offender by sex abuse victim, is the reaction of self-defence after the mental trauma suffered by the victim regarding the shame attached with the crime committed against her," the judge said.
The court said one cannot ignore that most of the time, "the offence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse committed in the close doors or privately. Sometimes the victims herself does not understand what is happening to them or what is happening to them is wrong."
"The Indian women are capable, pave the way for them to excel, they only require the freedom and equality. The 'glass ceiling' will not prevent the Indian women as a road lock for their advancement in the society, if equal opportunity and social protection be given to them," the court said concluding the matter.
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