Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace Vs. Defamation – The Story of Priya Ramani and Her F

Author: Aheli Ghoshal Student, Amity University, Kolkata

INTRODUCTION

Over one-third of the women employees have gone through some forms of sexual harassment at their workplaces. However, the fear of getting fired, the fear of being mocked at or the fear of listening the infamous line” Log Kya Kahenge?” prevented them from protesting.

As per reports made by a survey conducted by Network of Women in Media and Gender at Work (link given below), most women do not speak up. How surprising it is, that the world boasts of its so-called “modernizations” and yet, no improvisations occurred in this context.

This case was a big win for all the women in the history of India. The case will definitely provide courage to all the women to speak up against the terrible injustices that are done to them. But for that, knowing the case is necessary. Let us know all the inch of the case, and the two persons around which it is revolved.

WHO IS PRIYA RAMANI?

Priya Ramani was an Indian journalist, writer, and an editor.  She started working for “The Asian Age” from the year 1994. From then, she has worked for several famous magazines, such as “India Today”, “Cosmopolitan”, “Vogue India”, “Indian Express” and so on.

Currently she is an editor at large at “Juggernaut Books”.

Priya Ramani is also an editorial board member of “Article 14”, which is a website that elaborates about the rule of law in India.

WHO IS MJ AKBAR?

Mobasher Jawed “MJ Akbar” is an Indian journalist, and former Minister of State For External Affairs who served the position till the year 2018.  As an editor, he launched some of India’s famous news periodicals, such as “India Today”, “Deccan Chronicle”, “The Asian Age” and others.

MJ Akbar was forced to resign as a minister, due to several sexual harassment allegations against him, from several women with whom he has worked, including Priya Ramani.

PRIYA RAMANI’S ME TOO STORY

The “Me Too” movement had spread at large from the year 2018, in all parts of India.  Several Indian women chose to speak through this movement. Priya Ramani was one of them. Ramani published an article in the year 2017, called “To The Harvey Weinsteins of the World” in the magazine “Vogue India”, where she accused MJ Akbar of sexually harassing her when she worked as an editor of The Asian Age back in the year 1997. At that time, MJ Akbar was the head of the same. Priya Ramani described that how Mr. Akbar had called her for an interview at a hotel, but she clearly felt that it was rather a date and less of an interview.

Although she did not accuse MJ Akbar directly in the case, but her usage of some words, such as “former boss” made it clear that it was MJ Akbar whom she was targeting.

Further in the year 2018, Priya Ramani made a tweet, where she for the first time, mentioned the name of MJ Akbar.  She clarified that she “never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator- maybe they’ll share”.

THE DEFAMATION CASE

Because of her tweet, where Priya clearly highlighted the name of Mr. Akbar, MJ Akbar in the same year, filed a case of criminal defamation against Priya Ramani. He accused Priya that she has harmed his “stellar” reputation. MJ Akbar’s lawyer accused that Priya was lying, and that she was “building an imaginary story” to malign MJ Akbar.  The case went for more than 2 long years and finally the court gave its verdict.

SO, WHAT IS DEFAMATION ALL ABOUT?

In simple layman’s words, defamation can be defined as the publication of a statement, which tends to lower a person, in the estimation of the right-thinking members of the society generally, or which tends to make them shun, or avoid that person.

So, defamation means that— if you tend to harm somebody’s reputation, either by words (also known as Libel) or through some gestures made by you (also known as Slander), then legal actions can be taken against you, by that person, if he feels that he was defamed by you. There are two types of defamation- civil defamation and criminal defamation.

However, that does not mean that whatever you say against a person falls under the category of defamation. There are some certain essentials.

  1. The statement made by you should be false and defamatory.

  2. It must be published, that is, there must be a clear communication of the defamatory statement to a third person.

  3. It should refer clearly to the person, that is, the person who feels that he has been defamed by you.

Defamation has been defined under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

EXCEPTIONS TO DEFAMTION

Yes, as per the meaning of the defamation, a person can take legal steps against another, if the former feels that his reputation was harmed. But however, a person’s dignity and reputation cannot be affected by the person’s own negative misconduct. This provision was a major part that got portrayed in the court’s verdict, the details of which is given below.

THE COURT’S VERDICT

The code gave its verdict in favour of Priya Ramani. Some key points of the verdict are-

  1. Delhi District Court clearly mentions the fact that anyone can be a sexual harasser, even if he is a man of a high social status.

  2. The court noted the fact that it is high time that the society should understand the impact of sexual abuse and the mental and physical harassment that its victims go through.

  3. “Right of Reputation cannot be protected at the cost of Right to Dignity”- the court noted this as well.

  4. The court observed that the “time has come for a society to understand that sometimes a victim may for years not speak up due to the mental trauma. The women cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

  5. Keeping the above point in mind, the court further observed that all women have complete right to show her protests and her grievances at any social media platform, and she can do it even after decades has passed.

SO, WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN WHO ACTUALLY “LIE” THAT THEY WERE SEXUALLY HARASSED?

This is one of the many questions that are going on in people’s mind. What about those women who actually lie that they were sexually harassed by their colleagues, or by their bosses, or even by their partners?

I would like to say to all the people who are wondering about the answer to this question, that “THEY ARE COMPLETELY WRONG IN UNDERSTANDING THE POINT OF VIEW OF THIS CASE “

It must be noted that the case between Priya Ramani and MJ Akbar was a case of defamation, where the latter felt that he was defamed by the former, and so he decided to take legal action against Priya. This is NOT a case of sexual harassment.

 The most important point that must be observed in this case is that defamation CANNOT be used always, to silence the woman for all the mental and physical traumas and tortures that she goes through, and for which she has finally got the courage to speak up. I truly believe that in some cases, defamation is indeed used as a weapon, which protects and hides the real face of the sexual harassers.

Yes, there are women who falsely portrays the fact that they were harassed by some person, because of which the whole “Me Too” movement gets undermined. But howsoever, that does not mean that we will start believing the fact “all women are a liar”.  The court rightly pointed out the fact that a woman has complete right to show her protests, if she had gone through some sort of sexual harassment. Regarding the fact that whether she is saying the truth or not, well I believe that the justice shall prevail.

CONCLUSION

“The fight has been about women, not me” -Priya Ramani

I believe, not because I am a woman myself, but because I am a sensible citizen of India, that the case was indeed a groundbreaking one, which showed that the women ARE NOT ALONE.  If she wishes to fight, many people will come and support her.

There are several legislations which protects the woman from sexual harassment, like for instance, there is the “Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013 (Note the year. Women are facing sexual harassment from decades, but it has been only a few years that a law on it has been established), which seeks to protect women from any kind of sexual harassment that they face at their workplaces.  But does it really “protect” us?  No. Not at all. Until we, the women rise and speak up, no one can help us.

 I believe that this was a groundbreaking case only in and around the metropolitan city of India.

Why?

The answer is simple. Because the people living in the villages and the suburbs of India still do not know about this case.  Leave this case, they do not know that sexual harassment is a crime. As obvious it is, I believe that sexual harassment in these areas is more common, but because of the fact, that the women do not know what do about it or how to protest, these matters are not getting reported.

But that does not mean that after this case, women from the modern metropolitan cities will run to their nearby police stations to file a case. This is not going to happen “instantly”.  We need to make our female friends, our sisters, our mother, our daughters understand the fact that “IT IS OKAY TO SAY. IT IS OKAY TO SPEAK UP. IT IS OKAY TO PROTEST.”

CITATIONS

Puja Awasthi, “Over one-third of women in media faced sexual harassment at work: Survey”. The Week, 8th March 2020.https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2020/03/08/over-one-third-of-women-in-media-faced-sexual-harassment-at-work-survey.html

DNA Web Team, “Who is Priya Ramani? Know all about the defamation case filed against her by BJP MP MJ Akbar”. DNA India, 17th February 2021. https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-who-is-priya-ramani-defamation-case-filed-against-her-by-bjp-mp-mj-akbar-metoo-2875890

1 view