Were You a Ghost in the Room: MJ Abkar’s Lawyer to Defence Witness

MJ Akbar Case: Priya Ramani’s friend Niloufer corroborates her account of interview with Akbar.

Published25 Oct 2019, 08:57 AM IST
3 min read

In a criminal defamation case hearing on 25 October against senior journalist Priya Ramani filed by MJ Akbar, she brought to court her friend Niloufer Venkatraman, a defense witness, to record her statement at the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal.

Venkatraman had allegedly spoken to Ramani hours before she met MJ Akbar in the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai in 1993 for an interview.

MJ Akbar has been accused of rape and sexual harassment by several women in the wake of the #MeToo movement in October 2018. He later filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani for ‘ruining his reputation’ with ‘false accusations’.

‘I Recall Uncomfortable Details’

Ramani’s close friend Niloufer Venkatraman narrated what happened on the night of the 1993 interview between MJ Akbar and Priya Ramani.

"Priya called me on my landline. She sounded upset and distraught. I asked her why she sounded so upset. She told me that the interview hadn’t gone as we had expected. To begin with, it was not conducted in the coffee shop or lobby. Instead, she had been called upto Mr Akbar’s room where they were alone. She went on to describe her extremely uncomfortable details of what had happened a few hours earlier."

She then corroborated what Ramani had previously stated in her 313 CrPC statement.

"She described feeling extremely uncomfortable as he offered her an alcoholic drink and was having a drink himself. She also described him singing old Hindi songs to her, which sounded most unprofessional. She narrated how he patted the surface next to him on a small sofa and asked her to sit close to him. We discussed whether Priya should take the job if she was offered it. Priya also confided in me that she was not going to tell her parents the uncomfortable details of the interview as it would upset them. As it turned out, Priya did get the job at Asian Age office in Delhi."

‘Were You a Ghost in the Room’?

Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra asked the judge for some time to cross-examine her.

"I need time to cross-examine her because she has come prepared like she was a ghost in the room [at The Oberoi]."

She quickly corrected herself and said ‘alleged’ room. But by then, the murmurs in the courtroom had already started.

Luthra sought an adjournment that the judge was not very happy about. However, he gave the prosecution one day to cross-examine the witness. The next hearing is on 6 November.

"I will record their undertaking that they (complainant) would finish the cross examination in one day. Another adjournment will not be given."

What’s Happened So Far

Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment as the #MeToo campaign raged in India last year.

Ramani has already testified as the first defence witness in the case wherein she recalled the entire timeline of events since 1993 — right from her "uncomfortable" interview with Akbar to leaving his office and never working with him again.

She added, “I never met Mr Akbar alone in the Delhi office or the Bombay office alone. We always interacted in the edit meetings or with the whole office.”

She talked about writing an article in Vogue magazine on male bosses in the backdrop of #MeToo movement.

“While researching for the article, I couldn’t help but remember my personal story with my first male boss.”

On 23 August, she had begun her statement under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the court and said, “I defend the truth spoken in public interest and for the public good. It is only now that sexual harassment at workplace is regarded as a serious offence.”

Akbar resigned as minister on 17 October 2018.

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