MJ Akbar-Priya Ramani Case: John Quotes Ginsburg in Final Argument
Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John said that freedom of speech and expression is intrinsic to a democratic society.
Priya Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John quoted US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she concluded her final arguments in the defamation case brought on against Ramani by ex-BJP minister MJ Akbar on Saturday, 19 September.
Ginsburg was also a feminist icon who died on Friday, 18 September. Alluding to an address by Ginsburg, John spoke about “structural wrong” and said that the #MeToo Movement was started to correct this structural wrong.
“I was a law school teacher. And that’s how I regard my role here with my colleagues, who haven’t had the experience of growing up female and don’t fully appreciate the arbitrary barriers that have been put in women’s way.”Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Rebecca John, in her final argument, further said:
“Ramani did not jump into any bandwagon... This wasn’t a bandwagon, this wasn’t a trade union, these were women who came out with painful testimonies, and to dismiss it as bandwagon is disrespectful…”Rebecca John, in her final arguments
John added: “And assuming that there was a bandwagon, why complain only against Ramani?”
The Court will be taking up MJ Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra’s rebuttal on 13 October.
Response to Complainant’s Arguments
John began her Saturday’s arguments by saying, “I will be replying to the arguments made by the complainant, challenge the objections raised by them, and then make my final statement.”
She then pointed out that by calling Ramani’s Vogue article (in which Ramani had talked about sexual harassment at workplace) and tweets (through which Ramani had acknowledged that a part of her article talked about harassment by Akbar) ‘per se’ defamatory, the complainant has not taken into account the defense of truth taken by Ramani.
John also stressed on an argument she had made in the previous hearing: Complainant has to still prove his case beyond reasonable doubt. She added:
“The complainant cannot take benefit of prudent man, preponderance of probability standards. The complainant must at all points maintain the proof beyond reasonable doubts standard.”
On the question of why Ramani had not spoken up earlier, John drew the court’s attention to the fact that Priya Ramani had talked about the culture of silence that prevailed at workplaces.
John further reiterated her argument that the alleged incident of sexual harassment by MJ Akbar took place in 1993, and the existing laws then were limited. She pointed out that the Vishaka guidelines came into existence in 1997, but the law was brought in only is 2013.
John further said, “She (Ramani) only spoke out during the #MeToo Movement in India because it gave her a safe platform.”
Referring to the burden of good faith on Ramani, Rebecca John said:
“Ramani discharged the burden of good faith by putting herself on the stand…not running away…by coming clean before the Court.”
John also reiterated that the imputation is not defamatory when it is a truth, made in good faith and to serve a public interest.
Rebecca John cited Section 146 of the Indian Evidence Act, that deals with questions which are lawful in cross-examination, and said, “I have every right as a cross examiner to to test his veracity, to discover who he is and what is his position in life, to shake his credit.”
She also quoted Section 9 of the same Act and said:
“If you are prosecuting me (Ramani) for the 3 tweets and 1 article, my explanation or contextualisation is a relevant fact.”
John also stated that landline phone records from 1993 do not exist and, therefore, it was unfair that the Ramani had been asked to produce them.
Referring to a WhatsApp conversation that Priya Ramani had with Nilofar Venkatraman after she had alleged sexual harassment by MJ Akbar, before he had filed a defamation case, John said:
“Priya Ramani had proved her WhatsApp conversation with Nilofar Venkatraman by producing her mobile phone before the court.”
Section 65 of The Indian Evidence Act deals with cases in which secondary evidence may be given. John cited subsections B(4) and B(2) of Section 65 to establish the admissibility of screenshots of Ramani’s conversation with Venkatraman as evidence.
She further added: similarly, with respect to the evidence corroborated from the testimonies of Nilofar Venkatraman and Ghazala Wahab, every ingredient of 65(B) has been complied
John further cited Sections 5 and 7 of The Indian Evidence Act and said, “Everything I have provided in the case is relevant.”
Section 5 of the Act says that evidence may be given of facts in issue and relevant facts. Section 7 of the Act says that the occasion, cause or effect of relevant facts, or facts in issue, is also relevant.
On Freedom of Speech and Expression
Rebecca John, in her final statement said, "I (Ramani) proved my truth through cross-examination. My truth was corroborated by Venkatraman through the WhatsApp message.”
Rebecca John said that freedom of speech and expression is intrinsic to a democratic society.
John stated that Ramani had made her statement in good faith and in public interest, and said that her evidence and that of her witnesses are of sterling quality.
In the previous hearing, Rebecca John had said that Priya Ramani was being “targeted selectively” to halt the avalanche of allegations against Akbar. She had also, in an earlier hearing, addressed claims of Akbar’s “impeccable reputation”.
“I would like to highlight at this point that the (Vogue) article deals with both Akbar and other male bosses,” Rebecca John had said, beginning her final arguments before a Delhi Court on Saturday, 5 September.
She had also pointed out that Ramani had pleaded “truth” as her defence, “made in good faith, in public interest, and for public good”, and went on to cite exceptions 1 and 9 interlinked with exception 3 to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.
In a 2017 article about sexual predators in workplace, written for Vogue, Ramani had described her own ordeal of having been sexually harassed by a former boss. A year later, in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, Ramani had alleged on social media that the former boss had, in fact, been Akbar.
Akbar had subsequently filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani, asserting that Ramani’s allegations were false and that it had cost him his “stellar reputation”.
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