Union Minister Smriti Irani, reacting to the Delhi court order acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation suit filed by former minister MJ Akbar, said today that "due protection had been given to women" by law.
"I have stated this before, due protection has been given to women and the protectors of law can take action based on their statements," Smriti Irani told reporters when the news came in during her press briefing.
The court said a woman has the right to put grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades. MJ Akbar, a senior editor, resigned as Union Minister in 2018 in a flurry of sex harassment allegations that emerged in the MeToo campaign in India. He denied all the allegations.
He sued Priya Ramani for defamation over her magazine article alleging harassment by him several years ago.
Dismissing the complaint, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said it was "shameful" that crimes against women were taking place in a country where epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana were written about respecting women.
Making references to the ancient texts, the judge said the glass ceiling would not prevent Indian women from advancing in a society of equal opportunities.
Women can't be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse, said the court.
Even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser, the court said, adding that the "right of reputation" cannot be protected at the cost of right to dignity.
"Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self-confidence (and) the social stigma attached with the allegations.. society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims," the judge said, in a verdict that has been widely praised.
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Former Union Minister MJ Akbar's defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani -- filed over her allegations of sexual misconduct against him -- could not be proved, a Delhi Court said today, acquitting her of all charges. "Women can't be punished for raising instances of sexual abuse," the court said, adding that "right of reputation" -- a reference to MJ Akbar's suit -- "cannot be protected at the cost of right to dignity".
"The Indian constitution allows women to put forward her grievances before any forum and at any time," the judge said, taking cognizance of the lack of mechanisms to raise sexual harassment complaints.
Pointing out that "even a man of (high) social status (standing) can be a sexual harasser," Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said, "It can't be ignored that most times sexual harassment is committed behind closed doors".
"Most of the women who suffer abuse can't often speak up due to stigma and attack on their character," he added.
Ms Ramani told the media that she feels "vindicated" on behalf of the women who spoke out against sexual harassment in the workplace.
"Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves despite the fact that it is me, being the victim who had to stand up in court as the accused," she said. "I hope it will discourage powerful men from filing false cases against women who share their truths," she told NDTV.
Ms Ramani had accused the former editor of sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement of 2018. She had tweeted a newspaper article she wrote a year ago, where she accused a "former boss" of being a "sexual predator".
Later in court, she said the incident took place around 20 years ago. Mr Akbar, who headed Asian Age at the time, had called her to his hotel bedroom for a job interview and behaved inappropriately, she had told the court.
Her tweet had opened the floodgates, with around 20 women stepping forward with similar allegations against the former editor.
On October 15, 2018, Mr Akbar -- then a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet -- approached the court. He resigned two days later, on October 17, 2018.
In a 41-page defamation suit, Mr Akbar alleged that Priya Ramani's tweets and newspaper article had spoiled the reputation and goodwill he built over 40 years and he had to step down from PM Modi's government.
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