Priya stood up not only for herself but all of us; her refusal to apologise is encouragement for all of us to speak.

Priya Ramani is a trailblazer and her victory matters to all of usVijayta Lalwani/Twitter
news Me Too Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 17:46

Priya Ramani is a trailblazer. Fighting a battle against a powerful man, she was given the opportunity to apologise. Few would have faulted her if she had retracted. Faced with prolonged court procedures that cost money and time, many may have had second thoughts about entering the arena and taking the punches. But Priya, with the support of her family, well-wishers, colleagues and other women who spoke up to strengthen her cause, stood her ground. And she won.

And because of her courage, there will be many more women who come after her, who will believe in their right to speak and be heard, too.

In a landmark judgment on Wednesday, a Delhi court acquitted the journalist of the defamation case filed against her by former Union Minister and veteran mediaperson MJ Akbar. In October 2018, Priya had tweeted that a 2017 Vogue article in which she spoke about the sexual harassment she faced from her boss, was actually about MJ Akbar. Priya made the revelation in the thick of the #MeToo movement that had broken out in India at the time. Subsequently, over 20 women alleged that they had been subjected to workplace sexual harassment by MJ Akbar, many alleged rape. On October 17, Akbar stepped down from his post as Minister of State for External Affairs. He also filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani, claiming that he had an "unblemished" reputation.

This is a common strategy adopted by men accused of sexual harassment. In a criminal defamation case such as the one filed by MJ Akbar, a person can end up being fined or sentenced up to two years in jail or both. It can be an effective scare tactic, but not only did the Delhi court accept that MJ Akbar was not a man of "stellar reputation" as had been argued, the court also said that "right of reputation can't be protected at the cost of right to dignity".

Also read: Priya Ramani's truth wins: MJ Akbar loses defamation case filed in #MeToo

The court also acknowledged the stigma associated with sexual harassment, the lack of due process available in the time that Priya Ramani was working with MJ Akbar, and further noted that a woman has the right to put forth her grievance after decades.

The court's observations are a good answer to naysayers of the #MeToo movement who have frequently come up with questions like: "Why was she silent for all these years?" and "What about a man's reputation?" even if scores of women have recounted similar experiences with the same man. The court, in essence, has listened to the voice of survivors.

The names of women who stood by Priya should also not be forgotten. Women like Ghazala Wahab and Niloufer Venkatraman who testified in court in support of Priya and her lawyer Rebecca John. It matters that they decided to support her and did not back off. It matters that they made time and effort to be seen and heard.

For Priya, the court's verdict should come as relief —  it has been two years of delays and frustrations after all. But the judgment goes beyond what it means to her at an individual level. Priya stood up not only for herself but all of us; her refusal to apologise is encouragement for all of us to speak; her incredible courage to fight despite the odds is inspiration for all of us who have been conditioned into thinking it's not worth it; her decision to break her silence after decades is a boost for all of us who believe it's too late to call out our harassers who still walk around as men with "unblemished reputations".

Priya Ramani's smile in court today is a victory for all of us. Priya Ramani is a trailblazer.

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