No Proof of MJ Akbar’s ‘Stellar Reputation’: Priya Ramani’s Lawyer

John had said, on Saturday, that the offence of defamation is not an absolute offence, but a justifiable offence.

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Gender
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Priya Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John will continue her concluding arguments on Tuesday, 8 September, in a defamation case against Ramani, brought on by former BJP minister MJ Akbar.
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Continuing her final arguments in a criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, brought on by former BJP minister MJ Akbar, her lawyer Rebecca John cited WhatsApp conversations between Nilofar Venkatraman and Ramani in a bid to prove the admissibility of Venkatraman’s statement.

She also deconstructed Ramani’s statements, made during cross-examination, and said:

“Priya Ramani is a journalist of eminence. Much has been made about the eminence of the complainant (MJ Akbar). The accused is of no less eminence.”  

Further, she read from Ramani’s Vogue article, and in response to Akbar’s contention that the entire article was about him, pointed out that the references she had made in the article (“Harvey Weinsteins,” “male bosses”, “we will get you all etc) were all plural.

Further, John pointed out that Ramani talked about the ordeal faced by multiple women.

John will be continuing her remarks on Monday, 14 September.

Admissibility of Nilofar Venkatraman’s Evidence

Venkatraman, in her testimony, had talked about her WhatsApp conversations with Ramani in the immediate aftermath of her tweets “outing” Akbar, her relationship with Ramani, and about Ramani's alleged encounter with Akbar in Oberoi Hotel in 1993.

Addressing the court, John said: “Nilofar Venkatraman’s evidence is admissible under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act.”

She further cited the Supreme Court judgement of Krishan Kumar Malik v State of Haryana to support her claim.

“The principle of res gestae is an exception to the rule of inadmissibility of hearsay evidence. Nilofar Venkatraman is a res gestae witness.”  
Rebecca John

The doctrine of res gestae, embodied in Section 6 of the Evidence Act, implies that a statement is so spontaneous and immediate, that there has been no time for its fabrication. Such statements are exception to the rule barring hearsay as admissible evidence.

“Nilofar Venkatraman’s evidence should be read to fully corroborate Priya Ramani’s truth, which is further corroborated by a spontaneous, immediate WhatsApp message (in 2018).”  
Rebecca John

'Good Faith' and 'Public Good'

John, beginning her concluding arguments, on Saturday, 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.

Stating the legal definition of “good faith”, John said, on Tuesday, that Ramani showed good faith because her Vogue article and subsequent contentious tweets were based on her own experience, as well as that of multiple women who had spoken up against Akbar.

According to Section 52 of the IPC, “Nothing is said to be done or believed in “good faith” which is done or believed without due care and attention.” Thus, good faith, essentially implies due care and attention.

Addressing the question of public good, John said, “It can be no one's case that speaking out against sexual harassment at workplace is against public good.”

Further, John read from the top court’s judgment in Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan, and drew parallels between that the Vishakha case and that of Ramani, to support her argument that Ramani's act was in public good.

Why the Delay in Speaking Up Against Akbar?

Pointing out that Section 354A of the IPC, which deals with sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment, was only inserted in 2013, Ramani said:

“I (Priya Ramani) could not have invoked 354A in 1993 because it was not there. I could not have invoked other provisions of the IPC because they were not applicable. Not only this, there were no mechanisms in court that were applicable.”

Further, Ramani said, “It was only after the amendment in 2013, that colourable sexual remarks were brought under the ambit of sexual harassment under IPC.”

“The delay, in Ramani coming forward with allegations against Akbar, was both on account of the fact that there was vacuum in the law (in 1993), and there was no safe platform. Women at the time were generally told to keep quiet, and not to make these allegations.”   
Rebecca John   

Dismantling the Myth of a 'Stellar Image'?

Addressing Akbar’s allegations of his “stellar image” having been tarnished by Ramani’s article and tweets, John said:

“‘Reputation’, ‘good reputation’ and ‘stellar reputation’ is central to their (MJ Akbar’s) case... I have contested all of this is false.”

She cited Ghazala Wahab’s testimony and went 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 added.

Background

On Saturday, John submitted before the court that Ramani does admit to writing the contentious Vogue article, but states that the article does not pertain to Akbar alone.

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 statement, on Saturday, John said that the offence of defamation is not an absolute offence, but a justifiable offence.

She further 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.

John also read Akbar’s statements made in the pre-summoning stage as well as during the cross-examination and asserted that there were inconsistencies in his response to questions asked about Ramani’s story.

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