Akbar Defamation Suit: Ramani Recalls ‘Uncomfortable’ Interview
Barkha Dutt, Tavleen Singh, Namita Bhandare, and Suhasini Haider have all turned up in show of support for Ramani.
Two weeks after senior journalist Priya Ramani recorded her first statement in the defamation case against former Union Minister MJ Akbar accusing him of sexual harassment, she is being heard at the Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal on Saturday, 7 September.
Ramani is testifying as the first defence witness and is expected to bring 2-3 other witnesses with her.
Barkha Dutt, Tavleen Singh, Namita Bhandare, and Suhasini Haider are also present in the court in a show of support for Ramani.
Ramani recalled the events of 1993, when she had returned from US and was looking for a job. That is when she heard of the famous editor, Akbar. She went to the office in Mumbai to hand in her resume and bumped into Akbar, who happened to be visiting from Delhi the same day.
Ramani recalls being asked by Akbar to meet him at the Oberoi Hotel at 7 pm the same day. She explained how the subsequent events unfolded.
She said that when she reached the hotel, she was expecting to meet Akbar in the lobby, but he asked her to come up to his room instead.
While testifying in the court, she said “He wanted to know if I was married, he wanted to know if I had a boyfriend. I replied no to both. He asked me many questions about my family. I told him they were keen that I have an arranged marriage. He offered me alcohol from the mini bar.”
Ramani continued, “I refused, he got up and made himself a drink. He asked me about my music preference. When I replied, he started singing old hindi songs to me.”
‘Asked me to Sit Close to Him’
She said, “I felt extremely uncomfortable at all these inappropriate personal questions. He didn’t discuss my writing skills, my knowledge of current affairs or any other journo questions. Then he moved to a sofa next to the bed and gestured to me to come sit in the tiny space next to him.”
By then, she said that she was concerned for her physical safety.
“I knew I had to leave the room immediately. I got up and said I have to leave, as I was leaving, Akbar said his office would follow up about the job,” she added.
‘Never Met Him Alone in Delhi/Bombay Office’
Ramani continued, “I was offered a job in the Delhi office of the Asian Age as a correspondent and I began in January 1994. I asked the news editor for a transfer to Bombay. The transfer was accepted immediately. Within a fortnight of joining the Asian Age, I was working in the Bombay office.”
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.”
Ramani left in 10 months to join Reuters, after which she never worked with Akbar again.
From #MeToo to #MJAkbar Story
Ramani recalled the time when the Vogue Features Editor had reached out to her to write a piece on the behaviour of male bosses in the backdrop of the international #MeToo movement
She said, “While researching the article, I couldn’t help but remember my personal story with my first male boss.”
“And so, I began the article with my MJ Akbar story. I never named him. The first four paras of the article were a brief account of what happened at the Oberoi hotel in 1993. The rest of the piece was about the behaviour of a certain type of a male boss in general.”Priya Ramani, Journalist
However, senior Advocate Geetha Luthra called Ramani's articles from her Vogue magazine piece, 'inadmissible' during the hearing.
In the last hearing on 23 August, she had given her 313 CrPc statement 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 filed a private criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after his name cropped up on social media as the #MeToo campaign raged on in India. He resigned as minister on 17 October last year.
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