A Delhi Court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in a criminal defamation case filed by former Union minister M.J. Akbar. Ramani had accused him of sexual misconduct.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar had reserved his judgment in the case earlier this month after both Akbar and Ramani completed their arguments in the case. Both Akbar and Ramani were present in the courtroom during the pronouncement of the verdict.
The court noted Akbar, a veteran journalist and author who took up politics, was a man of reputation. Referring to an article by Ramani on Akbar, the court was quoted by Bar & Bench as saying, "On perusal and joint reading.., the court is of the view that content are defamatory".
The court noted Priya Ramani's disclosure was in “the interest of anti sexual harassment at workplace”, but stated the Visakha Guidelines—to deal with and deter workplace sexual harassment—were not in force at the time.
The court noted the reality of workplace sexual abuse and observed "Even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser." The court emphasised "Right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity."
The court then announced Ramani was acquitted in the case, noting Akbar's complaint was not proved.
Ramani had raised allegations of sexual misconduct against Akbar in 2018. Akbar filed the criminal defamation complaint against Ramani on October 15, 2018, for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct decades ago when he was a journalist. Allegations by Ramani and several other women led to Akbar resigning from his post of Union minister of state for external affairs on October 17, 2018.
Akbar had denied all the allegations of sexual harassment against the women who came forward during the #MeToo campaign against him. Akbar was the most high-profile figure to be targeted by the MeToo campaign in India.