Putting an end to a two-year fight, former journalist Priya Ramani was acquitted on Wednesday by a Delhi Court for defaming former Union Minister MJ Akbar. The latter had sued Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment.
The court stated that a woman had the right to voice grievances several years after an alleged crime took place.
This much-awaited verdict was praised by people, especially women, across the country.
Priya, while speaking to media after the verdict, said, “I feel vindicated on behalf of all the women who have ever spoken out against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has got the attention it deserves. My victory will encourage more women to speak up and make powerful men think twice before taking victims to court.”
It is undoubtedly a watershed moment - not just for women seeking legal recourse in cases of sexual harassment, but for us as a society. This verdict will, in fact, serve as a source of confidence for many women who wish to come forward and talk about the trauma they went through but feared the shame.
A personal win
Most of the time, when one tries to smash patriarchy, deep down, the woman is always worried. In a society like India that values reputation and public status over women’s intentions when they speak about sexual crimes publicly, it is often difficult for them to speak out without fear.
One of the biggest challenges in sexual harassment cases is that women often don't speak up immediately after they've been harassed. In many cases, victims keep believing that they are at fault and may live with that sense of shame for years or for decades. The sexual abuse takes away their dignity and self-confidence. This is one reason why victims do not come and speak out for years.
Ghazala Wahab, Executive Editor of Force magazine, who was harassed by Akbar in the '90s, recalled in her testimony how she got no help from her seniors and was even afraid to tell her parents because they would make her quit her career.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey made a point that prevention of sexual harassment was a woman's right and that it was the reason why women made up only 25 percent of the workforce.
Today, despite having Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (POSH) complaint cells in organisations, women are still wary of complaining.
Pandey, in his verdict, said, “It cannot be ignored that most of the time, the offence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse committed is [behind] closed doors or privately. Sometimes the victim herself does not understand what is happening to them or what is happening to them is wrong.”
A ray of hope
It is important to note that the allegations against MJ Akbar came to light two decades later, and yet the court believes the women making the allegations.
The reason why many women feel elated today is because they could see a representative of truth who put forth the message that those in power cannot use the law and their army of lawyers to silence a woman.
It gives hope; the verdict makes women believe that they are not alone, and that the judiciary is there for them.
Ghazala said Wednesday’s judgment would be a great confidence builder for women.
“A day to remember that #MeToo is not a movement. It's a consciousness about demanding and expecting safe workplaces, whether at home or outside. Women, who can, must always stand up for themselves, and for those who are unable to stand for themselves,” she said in a tweet.
A day to remember that #MeToo is not a movement. It's a consciousness about demanding and expecting safe workplaces, whether at home or outside. Women, who can, must always stand up for themselves, and for those who are unable to stand for themselves #PriyaRamani
— Ghazala Wahab (@ghazalawahab) February 17, 2021
The judgment indeed highlighted that it's not the victim's fault, and the culprit 's misbehavior should be brought to light and shamed. The victim should not be traumatised, but must be supported. She has the right to work with her head held high, to step out of her house without fear.
This landmark judgment will hopefully discourage those with power from stifling women’s voices and their demand for justice in the years to come.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)