On 9 September, in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, senior journalist Priya Ramani was cross-examined by Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra and her team in the criminal defamation case that has been filed against her by MJ Akbar. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement in October last year.
The cross-examination lasted two sessions and is likely to continue in the next two hearings as well, on 24 and 25 October. The line of questioning used by the prosecution in today’s hearing sparked the ire of those in the courtroom as well as of people on social media.
Ever since the defamation trial started, senior journalists have come out in huge numbers to support Ramani through the proceedings.
In the latest hearing, senior journalists such as Siddharth Varadarajan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Namita Bhandare, Harinder Baweja and Saba Naqvi stood in court in rapt silence as irrelevant questions were fired at Ramani.
“How many articles did you write from January 1994-October 1994 while you were working at Asian Age?”, “Can you give me an exact number of articles that you wrote in that time period? And the headlines?”, “Name five prominent articles that you wrote in Elle magazine”, “Can you tell the exact date of joining Cosmopolitan magazine?”
‘You Seem Unprepared’
Each question was specifically designed to ask her to recall a date or the name of an article published years ago, as far back as 25 years.
Upon being asked to say exactly how many articles she wrote at the Asian Age, after she had already said that she wrote around one article a day, Ramani finally retorted by asking for a calculator.
Ironically, after asking for all these specifics, Akbar's team took a long time to find the exact date of the Supreme Court's Vishakha judgment, and the judge had to remind them that one of their questions wasn't correctly framed as the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 was not a criminal legislation.
There was constant commotion among the battery of lawyers that came with Luthra. They were constantly rummaging through their files, exchanging notes amongst each other and improvising questions at the last minute.
The judge pointed out that they seemed ‘unprepared’ for the hearing.
And yet, more followed.
One of Luthra’s counsels accused one of Rebecca John’s team members of peeping into their notes. Some bickering ensued for a few seconds before Luthra and her team started hiding all their notes from the defense counsel, to which the judge quipped by saying:
“It is not an examination that you have to hide your notes like this. Luthra, on the other hand, said, “We used to circulate chits in exams, sir”.
Murmurs rippled after this. Ramani, meanwhile, sat quietly in the witness box.
‘Insane Line of Questioning’
As live tweeting from the hearing gained momentum, the bizarre questions that were being asked started getting panned across Twitter.
Ramani maintained her composure throughout the hearing. Despite the kind of questions she was being asked, she did not dismiss any.
The next hearing is scheduled for 24 and 25 October. Her cross-questioning is likely to continue in the next two hearings as well.