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Priya Ramani had been acquitted in the defamation case against her, but MJ Akbar has now filed an appeal against it in the Delhi HC. A look at powerful men and their entitlement.
The trending piece of news since yesterday has been MJ Akbar filing an appeal in the Delhi High Court against journalist Priya Ramani’s acquittal.
Priya Ramani had been acquitted in February in the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar against her by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in Delhi. As reported yesterday, the former union minister filed an appeal against Priya Ramani’s acquittal the Delhi High Court.
On the surface, the case may look like a simple case of an aggrieved person using his legal recourse to seek justice, but upon delving into the details, the case is anything but that.
All those who are well versed with the circumstances of the present case would vouch that the defamation charges were levelled against Ms Ramani with the sole intent of intimidating her and making the sexual harassment accusations she had levelled against Mr Akbar seem like a nefarious act.
The verdict given on 17th February 2021 after a 2 year-long battle was seen as a victory not just for Ms Ramani, but also for all the women out there who have shown the courage to raise their voice against any and all forms of harassment meted out to them, and in the process have been fighting a lone battle against our prejudiced society. But has the battle really been won? Have privileged men in positions of power learnt their lesson?
Why were criminal defamation charges levelled against Priya Ramani?
In the present case, Priya Ramani had for the first time spoken about the sexual harassment meted out to her by an acclaimed newspaper editor in an article in Vogue India in 2017. The identity of the editor was revealed by her as MJ Akbar during the #MeToo movement in 2018. This revelation led to MJ Akbar resigning from the Union council of Ministers.
But he was a man in a position of power, who would not let it all go, and retaliated by filing a case of criminal defamation against Priya Ramani. This was a classic case of the accused shifting the entire onus for the veracity of the alleged incident on the survivor.
Indian law does ensure that an accused is innocent until they are proven and pronounced guilty in court. In the present case, however, it is the survivor who was turned into an accused, and it was she who was fighting a battle in court to prove that she had indeed suffered abuse and harassment. In the course of this court battle the accused was showered with sympathy and support that should have rightfully gone to the survivor.
But is this a lone case? Have we not seen at least one similar case in our immediate surrounding?
We hear speeches and read powerful write-ups asking women to raise their voices and shatter the privilege and control that patriarchy accords to men. But when women raise their voices, are they offered the support they rightfully deserve?
There have been several cases in the recent past where men in positions of power who have accused of sexual harassment have effectively managed to turn the narrative in their favour.
Former TERI chief RK Pachauri was accused of sexual harassment by a female research associate in TERI. The charges which were levelled in 2015 only led to a harrowing experience for the survivor, who eventually had to quit the organisation. The accused resigned from the organisation only after an uproar was raised over his appointment as the executive vice-chairman of TERI.
Charges were framed against him on order by a Saket Court only in 2018 and until he died in 2020, the case was still in progress. The survivor was never given justice, while several aspersions were cast on her and she was mentally tormented.
In all this ordeal Mr Pachauri continued speaking of the mental stress the case was causing him and his family. The several eulogies on his death speak of the ‘accomplished man he was’, and these allegations of sexual harassment are pushed to a corner. Probably the publications were following our Indian philosophy of not speaking ill of the dead.
But Mr Pachauri’s is not the only case. The sexual harassment case against the former editor in chief of Tehelka magazine Tarun Tejpal is still ongoing, and it has been 8 years since the incident.
The most obvious example of flexing position and power to their advantage by a man was when former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi led a bench for the suo moto hearing of a case pertaining to sexual harassment allegations against him by a female Supreme Court Employee, as reported here.
The female employee had stated in her petition how she and her family were subject to continuous harassment, and had eventually been suspended from her job for a trivial lapse, all because she had rebuffed the advances of the accused. A criminal case of extortion was filed against her.
The survivor had prepared an affidavit detailing her entire case, and sent a copy of the same to all the judges of the Supreme Court. Reportedly, this resulted in the convening of a committee by the former Chief Justice hastily “to deal with a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary.”
There were aspersions laid on her character and conduct and criminal allegations levelled against her by the committee and more specifically the former Chief Justice. Many citizens of our country had already concluded that he was a pained and wronged man, who was sadly facing false allegations as can be seen in the Twitter thread here. But the woman was eventually reinstated in her job in January 2020, and neither did the Delhi police have any evidence in the case of criminal extortion filed against her as reported here.
All this, however, does not take away the harrowing experience and further harassment the survivor was subjected to in the process of probing her charges, while the accused served his full term in office despite going against the principle of natural, justice and acting as a judge in his own cause.
The above cases are only a few of the hundreds we come across each day, in newspapers, magazines, television, your workplace or even your neighbourhood. How often have you heard it being said “He is such a pious man of repute. Woman these days have no moral values.” These are the same people who will talk of women’s empowerment and education in the same breath, but expect them to stay within the mould of accepting and subservient women they have been forced to for ages.
Men in positions of power are revered by society. A woman taking steps towards professional accomplishment or financial freedom is expected to abide by such men, as these men are considered to have done a favour to womankind by ‘permitting’ them a little space in their world. But women no longer believe this narrative, and are ready to call out unacceptable behaviour. They are no longer willing to accept the crude societal mentality that they must adjust as they have dared to step out of the confines of their homes. Rightly so, women today have found their voice.
The verdict acquitting Priya Ramani on February 17th, 2021 was the much-needed strength for this voice. A man, albeit a powerful man had flexed his power and monetary strength to intimidate the woman who had called him out but his intimidation had not worked. But with M.J Akbar filing an appeal against the acquittal, it is evident that a man of privilege will not cease using his privilege to his advantage as has been voiced by several women here, but let us hope that this appeal does not dampen the voice of strength and courage which the verdict of acquittal bought with it.
Images source: YouTube
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