Former Union Minister and journalist MJ Akbar, who filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani for accusing him of sexual harassment, denied having called the-then young journalist to his hotel room.
In a piece for Vogue India titled ‘To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world’, Priya Ramani wrote about a journalist who harassed her, but hadn’t named MJ Akbar. She later named him on Twitter and soon many women came forward to accuse the former Union Minister of sexual harassment and even alleged rape.
During cross-questioning by Priya Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John, MJ Akbar denied having received a phone call from the reception of the hotel he was staying in, and that it was “incorrect that I asked her to come to my room”.
“It is further wrong to suggest that the conversation between us was more personal than professional,” MJ Akbar said, according to Bar and Bench.
MJ Akbar further went on to deny most details put forward by Priya Ramani, and denied details of the conversation that took place between the two. In the open letter, Priya Ramani wrote, “...you sang me old Hindi songs after inquiring after my musical preferences.” MJ Akbar went on to deny this as well.
He again denied that the meeting took place. “Further, since I did not meet her on that day, I do not know if she felt unnerved by my behaviour,” he reportedly said.
“I put it to you that Priya Ramani asked for a transfer to the Bombay office of Asian Age after 10 days of work at the Delhi office,” Priya Ramani’s lawyer questioned Akbar, which he said he did not know.
“I do not specifically recall that she asked for a transfer to Bombay office after ten days. She would have moved to Bombay with the permission of the Editor, if it did happen,” Akbar reportedly replied.
Priya Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John then moved on to the Vogue piece, trying to demonstrate that only a part of it pertained to Akbar. This, Akbar reportedly said was incorrect, and stated that Priya Ramani’s tweet confirmed that the entire piece was about him, and that a part of the open letter did not allude to the experiences of other women with other male bosses.
The hearing saw several interruptions from Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra.
Akbar was then shown tweets by Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha,, Harinder Baweja, Kadambari M Wade. Akbar admitted to seeing the tweets of Ghazala Wahab and Harinder Baweja, but not Kadamnbari Wade’s and Shuma Raha’s. He admitted to being aware of Ghazala Wahab’s account on The Wire, and admitted that Majlie de Puy Kamp, (who spoke to Huffington Post) was an intern under him, but hadn’t read the story.
In Majlie’s story, she had said that Akbar and her father were friends, and once she flagged the sexual harassment, her father had corresponded over email. He admitted to the email but said it was over a misunderstanding. “I cannot confirm the content of the email.. there was no question of sexual harassment,” Akbar reportedly said.
The case has been adjourned to July 6.
Over 20 women accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, all of whom were working as employees under MJ Akbar when he was a journalist.