On 17 February 2021 Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey of a Delhi Court gave a significant verdict highlighting the women’s constitutional right to life and dignity unquestionable denying the plea of stellar reputation of the accused in the Priya Ramani defamation case. The criminal defamation suit against Priya Ramani, a journalist, was filed against her by MJ Akbar, presently a BJP MP, former BJP Minister of External Affairs and a veteran journalist, under section 500 read with section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), stating that accusation by Priya was false, fabricated and deeply distressing. He also levelled counter-charge against Priya of damaging not only his personal reputation and goodwill, but also his political career and social status. He also raised objection on the issue of Priya’s public disclosure of the incident and long time lapse of recording accusation. Priya made an allegation of sexual harassment against him in 2018. She found strength to lodge the complaint when the #’MeToo’ movement that was started by Tarana Burke, an American activist, in 2006 to raise awareness of sexually abused women andgot global recognition in 2017. Emboldened by that, Priya, brought to the fore her sad experience of being hapless victim of sexual misconduct by Akbar in October 1993 during a job interview. Akbar utilized his plum post of a sitting Union Minister to do such a criminal offence. Inspired and encouraged by Ramani’s move, other women who worked under M J Akbar between 1993 to 2011 also came forward and narrated their experience of being sexually exploited by him. Ghazala Wahab, another journalist and a witness in Ramani’s favour in the case, came out with her own story of harassment at Akbar’s hands. Akbar is among the most powerful people accused of workplace sexual harassment in India.
While pronouncing the verdict, the honourable Magistrate wrote “The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in Indian Constitution under Article 21, and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution”. This significant judgment has laid down a precedent for women to speak up against sexual harassment particularly by the so called socially reputed influential persons who try to take advantage of their position to abuse women and outrage their modesty. The court over ruled Akbar’s claims saying that the time elapsed since the alleged incident or the platform on which the woman chooses to speak up remains irrelevant saying “a woman has the right to put grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades” clearly contradicting The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 that imposes a three-month time limit on the filing of a complaint and honorably and acquitted Priya Ramani from all the charges framed against her. In the present rotten capitalist society, the objectification of women and viewing them as items of consumption has become rampant since sex-perversion and animal instinct are on a spiral. Moreover, women are often hesitant to come out with their sad, if not horrific experience, out of shame and fear of being socially stigmatized. The Court in its Priya Ramani verdict has sensitively observed that the sexual harassment is enabled by huge inequalities of social status and the victim is likely to be younger, junior, working in a more menial or marginal capacity or belonging to a marginalized or minority group and systematic abuse at the workplace due to lack of the mechanism to redress the grievance of sexual harassment at the time of the incident and lodge the complaint against it. Further the abuse comes as a shock when the harasser is a person in a position of trust or authority. In fact, the more famous the perpetrator, the more the harassment exercising the power, with the confidence of impunity. This verdict is expected to empower women to speak up against such sexual harassment in workplace or other locations and certainly strengthen the movement encouraging the victims to fight against this heinous crime.