Observing that "even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser", Delhi Court on Wednesday acquitted Priya Ramani in criminal defamation case by MJ Akbar.
"Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self confidence. Right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity. A woman has right to put her grievance even after decades," the court said.
The court said it is shameful that crimes against women are taking place in a country where epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana were written about respecting them. The glass ceiling will not prevent Indian women as a roadblock in advancement in society of equal opportunities, it said. Further, the court said Jatayu had come to protect Princess Sita.
Ramani had made allegations of sexual misconduct against Akbar in the wake of #MeToo movement in 2018. Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar had on February 1 reserved the judgment for February 10 after Akbar as well as Ramani completed their arguments.
The court said Ramani's disclosure was in the interest of anti-sexual harassment at workplace. Regarding Force magazine editor Ghazala Wahab's disclosure, the court said there was no mechanism to deal with sexual harassment at the time and the former did not file any complaint in view of Akbar's status. "There was no Vishakha guidelines at the relevant time. Need to consider systematic abuse at workplace," the court said, adding such abuse takes away dignity and self confidence.
Regarding social stigma attached with the allegations, the court said, "Society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims."
An elated Ramani later thanked her lawyer Rebecca John and her team, who she said put their heart and soul in the case. "It feels amazing, truly does. I feel vindicated on behalf of all the women who have ever spoken out against sexual harassment at work place," she said, adding the sexual harassment issue has gotten the attention it deserves."
John said, "...when you fight powerful people, you have only truth on your side. This is probably the most important case for me. The court believed in Ramani."
Akbar had filed the complaint against Ramani on October 15, 2018, for allegedly defaming him by accusing him of sexual misconduct decades ago. He resigned as Union minister on October 17, 2018. He has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment against the women who came forward during #MeToo campaign against him.