Priya Ramani Targeted Selectively by MJ Akbar: Lawyer Rebecca John

Rebecca John, appearing for journalist Priya Ramani, also addressed claims of Akbar’s “impeccable reputation”.

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Rebecca John, appearing for journalist Priya Ramani, also addressed claims of MJ Akbar’s “impeccable reputation”.
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Priya Ramani is being “targeted selectively” to halt the avalanche of allegations coming against Akbar, said senior advocate Rebecca John, continuing her final arguments, on Monday, 14 September, in the defamation case filed by former BJP minister MJ Akbar against Ramani

Rebecca John, appearing for journalist Priya Ramani, also addressed claims of Akbar’s “impeccable reputation”.

“The complainant’s plea of stellar reputation is a fact in issue. Thus, any evidence to rebut this claim is admissible under section 9 of Indian Evidence Act.”
Rebecca John

Akbar had previously asserted that Ramani’s allegations of sexual harssment, made in her Vogue article and subsequent tweets, had tarnished his “impeccable reputation”. He had also brought in journalists Veenu Sandal, Tapan Chaki, Sunil Gujral and Joyeeta Basu as character witnesses to support his claim.

The next hearing of the case is on Saturday, 19 September.

MJ Akbar’s Character Witnesses

Referring to Akbar’s character witnesses, John said:

“All of Akbar’s witnesses are journalists belonging to the same world (as Akbar), and they have chosen to selectively depose against Ramani...Almost all of the witness don’t know Ramani, haven’t met Ramani. How can they, then, contest her allegations?”   

Further, citing explanation 4 to section 499 of the IPC, John said: 'It is important for the complainant to show that his reputation has been lowered in the eyes of others.”

She contended that Akbar’s witnesses have openly admitted to their devotion to MJ Akbar. Reading Joyeeta Basu’s testimony, John asserted:

“Joyeeta Basu’s testimony has to be discarded on several grounds because she had a conversation with Akbar soon after the tweet and asked him to take legal action…She is certainly not a witness.”   

John also went on to read Ghazala Wahab’s statements, who, she said, had been produced to contest Akbar’s claim of having had an impeccable reputation.

Wahab, in her statements, had shared her experience of having been sexually harassed by MJ Akbar when she was an employee at Asian Age. Wahab had also, before Akbar had filed a complain against Ramani, alleged sexual harassment by Akbar through a tweet and an article.

Wahab had further shared, in her statements, that MJ Akbar had sent Veenu Sandal to speak to her. Sandal, according to Wahab, had told her that Akbar was in love with her “and that I should stop resisting him, and give him a chance”.

Veenu Sandal, Rebecca John pointed out, too was produced as one of MJ Akbar’s character witnesses.

Further, John reminded the court that Akbar had refuted sexual harassment allegations by Pallavi Gogoi, but had admitted to having had a “consensual relationship” with her. With reference to that, John said:

“A married person having a consensual relationship with a junior at his workplace, contradicts all his character witnesses’ testimonies of his professional conduct.”

Alleged Infirmities

John also alleged that there were infirmities in Akbar’s deposition.

“Akbar had claimed that he was in South Africa and didn’t have full details of what had happened when Ramani had tweeted,” John said. Then she went on to point out that Joyeeta Basu’s own statements falsified this claim.

Joyeeta Basu had shared with the court that she had tweeted in favour of Akbar after Ramani’s tweet, conversed with Akbar and suggested that he ought to file a case against Ramani.

“Conversation (between Basu and Akbar) happened while he was abroad,” said John.

John also suggested that Akbar was showing selective memory loss with regard to his meeting in Oberoi Hotel with Ramani, and that he had not at disclosed his previous political history till John reminded him of them during cross-examination.

Selective Targeting of Priya Ramani?

“Priya Ramani was targeted selectively...either everyone's articles and tweets are defamatory or none is,” said Rebecca John.

“Or are the other allegations accepted?” she added.

Stating that MJ Akbar was aware of the allegations against him, including those made by other women and he still chose to file a case singularly against Priya Ramani, John said:

“This is selective targeting of Ramani to create a chilling effect on other women.”

This, John alleged, was being done to halt the avalanche of allegations coming against Akbar.

Standard of Proof

Citing Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, that deals with the burden of proving that the case of the accused comes within exceptions, Rebecca John stated that while the prosecution had to establish “proof without reasonable doubt”, the accused was merely burdened to establish a “preponderance of probability.”

Rebecca John also quoted an Allahabad High Court judgment and said, “preponderance of probabilities implies balance of evidence".

“The nature and extent of this burden is not to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Law treats the onus as discharged if the accused can prove preponderance of possibility. The onus then shifts to the complainant.”

Thus, Rebecca said, that the standard of proof is higher for the complainant.

“My case is once I have pleaded a defence, and I have brought evidence in favour of my defence, I have exercised and discharged the burden on me under section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act.”
Rebecca John

Further John referred to High Court and Supreme Court judgments from other cases, and said that even if the Court does not fully believe Ramani, “if the Court feels that an ingredient of reputation has been successfully pleaded, it is enough.

“I need not prove each and every ingredient of the exception,” said John.

Background

“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”.

In her continued arguments on Tuesday, 8 September John had cited WhatsApp conversations between Nilofar Venkatraman and Ramani in a bid to prove the admissibility of Venkatraman’s statement.

She had also cited Ghazala Wahab’s testimony and had gone on to point out that the Firstpost article, which Akbar had exhibited himself, “carried rather painful disclosures of fourteen women.”

“Not really evidence of a stellar reputation,” John had said.

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