Last year, the #MeToo movement hit India and shockwaves rippled through the country. From Bollywood to the media industry, we saw many prominent names popping up and an outpouring of bottled up emotions. It all started with Tanushree Dutta's expose detailing allegations against Nana Patekar for harassing her on the sets of Horn Ok Please. Soon after, scores of women opened up about the horrifying personal experiences of sexual abuse at their respective workplaces. The hashtag #MeToo became a rallying cry against sexual assault and harassment.
Now, journalist Priya Ramani, on Saturday, testified in the defamation suit filed by veteran Indian journalist and former Union Minister MJ Akbar. As an editor, MJ Akbar launched weekly political news periodicals in India including India Today, Headlines Today, The Telegraph, The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. The case was filed against Priya in connection with sexual harassment allegations made by her. After Priya's allegations, MJ Akbar approached the Patiala House Court under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, terming the sexual harassment allegations levelled against him as “false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous”. Priya, however, had pleaded not guilty in the case initiated by MJ Akbar back in October 2018. The hearing in the defamation case is now underway at the Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate.
Her testimony began with her account of the series of events that took place in 1993 when MJ Akbar had allegedly asked her to go up to his room at The Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai for a job interview. She also added in her statement that over the years, her colleagues had also shared significantly worse stories of their experiences with Akbar and her tweet during the #MeToo campaign was to "highlight the fact that we normalise sexual misconduct and unless it results in physical assult, we do not take it seriously."
While describing MJ Akbar's alleged sexual overtures towards her when she was a 23-year-old aspiring journalist looking for a job, she said, “A predator is more powerful than his prey.” In her testimony, she explained how the #MeToo movement led Priya to come out with her story against MJ Akbar.
Priya further said, "I couldn’t tell my parents because they would ask me to refuse the job offer and I would have to give up my dream of being a journalist. We discussed whether I should even accept the job if I got it, with such a man at the helm of this organisation."
In court, Priya went on to reveal that she wrote a piece for a publication in 2017, which spoke about at sexual harassment at the workplace. The 2017 article that was mostly about MJ Akbar, however, didn't name him. It was only in the year 2018, Priya revealed in a tweet that the article was about MJ Akbar. She wrote, “I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator—maybe they’ll share.”
Priya also said in the court it was only after she saw the #MeToo movement gaining momentum in India she thought of revealing MJ Akbar's name. She began to see more stories or posts about sexual harassment, including one from Ghazala Wahab, who asked when the floodgates would open about Akbar. And after Ghazala, journalist, Prerna Singh Bindra also accused MJ Akbar, the "flamboyant editor," who called her to his hotel room to "discuss work'.
“Seeing all these women I felt compelled to speak about my experience with Akbar in 1993,” said Priya in her statement in the court. “And so I removed the anonymity I had given Akbar in my Vogue article and named him as the one who had sexually harassed me,” she added.
She also explained why she didn't name MJ Akbar the first time, “By saying he did not ‘do’ anything, I was saying there was no overt physical attack. But that did not excuse his sexually coloured behaviour.”
The court proceedings were adjourned today and the matter will be taken up next on October 24.
Here’s a reminder of what constitutes sexual harassment. Please note that power (to influence someone’s current and future work opportunities) plays a big role. Creating an atmosphere where a woman feels unsafe is also SH. pic.twitter.com/7j173hDmls— #MeTooIndia (@IndiaMeToo) September 7, 2019
Last year, survivors used #MeToo to speak up. We hope that women have the patience and fortitude to keep fighting for the changes. Simply put: it is on all of us to keep up the momentum of #MeToo and we can – if we do it together.
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