Declaring that the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right of life and dignity, a Delhi court on Wednesday threw out former Union minister and editor M J Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani who has accused him of sexual harassment.
Delivering the landmark judgement being hailed as a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, the court maintained that a woman has the right to put forward her grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades.
A woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against such abuse, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said as he dismissed Akbar’s complaint and held that no charges were proved against Ramani.
The time has come for society to understand sexual abuse and harassment and their implications on victims, the judge said while acquitting the journalist. The court asked her to furnish a bail bond of Rs 10,000 in case of an appeal.
Delivering a 91-page verdict in the keenly followed case, the court said it is shameful that incidents of crime and violence against women are happening in a country where epics such as the “Mahabarata” and “Ramayana” were written around the theme of respect for women.
“… the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in Constitution under article 21 and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under article 14 of the Constitution,” it said.
Accepting Ramani’s contention that Akbar is not a man of stellar reputation on the basis of testimony of witnesses, the court said it cannot be ignored that the offence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse mostly takes place behind closed doors.
Sometimes victims themselves do not understand what is happening to them or that what is happening to them is wrong, it observed.
Despite how well respected some persons are in society, “they in their personal lives could show extreme cruelty” to females, it added.
The court also made note of “systematic abuse at workplace” due to the lack of mechanisms to redress grievances of sexual harassment at the time of the incident, before the Vishaka guidelines were issued and the enactment of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. “The ‘glass ceiling’ will not prevent the Indian women… For their advancement in the society, if equal opportunity and social protection be given to them,” it said.