Priya Ramani records statement in MJ Akbar defamation case

I was honestly disclosing that there was no overt act but that didn’t excuse Mr Akbar’s sexually coloured behavior.
Priya Ramani

New Delhi, Sep 7 : Journalist Priya Ramani on Saturday recorded her statement as a witness in a defamation plaint filed against her by former Union Minister M.J. Akbar.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal’s court is recording her statement.

In her statement as a witness, Ramani said: “At 7 p.m. my friend Nilofer dropped me at Oberoi (hotel). When I reached the lobby and looked around for Mr Akbar but after I could not see him, I asked the reception to connect me to him. He asked me to come up to his room.

“I was silent and hesitant, he then reiterated and asked me to come up. I thought the interview would be at the coffee shop or lobby but I was 23 and not that confident to say, “No I will wait for you in the lobby.”

“I did not know I could dictate the terms of the interview. I was hesitant but went up. I rang the bell, he answered and I entered his room.”

She further said: “It was his bedroom, it was small, enclosed. The bed was turned down for the night, there was a small two-seater sofa near the bed. It was a big window and I could see it was a sea facing room, there were 2 chairs and a small table adjacent to the window and we sat there.

“I felt ill at ease to be in such an intimate space for a professional interview. I was acutely aware that I was alone in this room with him. He asked me why I had gone to US to study journalism. I replied that it was my dream to be a journalist, that this job was important to me, specially since it was my first job.

“He then asked many personal questions. He wanted to know if I was married, I said no. He wanted to know if I had boyfriend, I replied no. He asked me many questions about my family, I told him that my parents are keen and I have an arranged match.

Ramani said, Akbar then offered her alcohol from a mini bar, “but I refused”.

Her lawyer then asked, “What happened next?” She replied, “He got up and made a drink for himself. I think it was Vodka. He then asked me about my music preferences, when I replied he started singing old hindi songs to me, I felt extremely uncomfortable at all these inappropriate personal questions.

“He did not discuss my writing skills, my knowledge of current affairs or any journalism related question. Then he moved to the small two seater sofa next to the bed and gestured to me to come sit in the tiny space next to him.

“I was already feeling unnerved by his inappropriate behaviour. Now I was concerned for my physical safety. I knew I had to leave the room immediately. I got up and said I had to leave.

“As I was leaving, Mr Akbar said his office would follow up about the job.” The court was then adjourned for lunch and was to reassemble at 2 p.m.

Court to reassemble post lunch.

Highlights :

Senior Advocate Rebecca John argues that the four articles on which Ramani relied upon to write the Vogue Article be exhibited.

Senior Adv Geeta Luthra objects, says Ms Ramani is neither the author nor the editor of these four articles.

Judges marks and exhibits the documents for identification, defers the question of proving the documents till final arguments.

  • Ramani continues her statement. These were the articles I relied on to write about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Ramani.
  • I wrote the tweets dates Oct 8, 2018, Ramani.
  • Almost exactly a year after my Vogue article, the #MeToo movement began gaining momentum on Twitter after Tanushree Dutta accused a colleague of sexual harassment at workplace, Ramani.
  • After this, many women from the fields of film, entertainment, stand up comedy began naming people who had sexually harassed them at work place, Ramani.
  • I saw and read all their tweets.. on Oct 5, 2018, journalists such as Sandhya Menon and Anoo Bhuyan called out editors they had worked with, Ramani.
  • On Oct 6, 2018, I saw a tweet by Force Magazine editor, Ghazala Wahab asking when the floodgates would open about Mr Akbar, Ramani.
  • On Oct 7, I saw that an author Shunali K Shroff had replied to Ghazala Wahab’s tweet saying she too had been wondering the same, Ramani.
  • That same day, a journalist I worked with, Prerna Singh Bindra, a former member of the Wildlife Advisory Board of the GOI, tweeted about a “brilliant, flamboyant editor” who had called her to his hotel room late at night in her first job, Ramani.
  • Seeing all these women, I felt compelled to speak up about my experience with Mr MJ Akbar in 1993 and so I removed the anonyminity that I had given Mr Akbar in my Vogue article and named him as the editor who had sexually harassed me, Ramani.
  • I tweeted that I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. I have already explained that the first four paragraphs of the Vogue article were about the 1993 incident, Ramani.
  • I said I never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. I used the inverted commas to denote sarcasm, Ramani.
  • Sexual harassment can take any form. It can be physical or verbal. By saying that he didn’t “do” anything, I was honestly disclosing that there was no overt act but that didn’t excuse Mr Akbar’s sexually coloured behavior, Ramani.
  • Over the years, my colleagues have shared their significantly worse stories of their experiences with Mr Akbar. My tweet was to highlight the fact that we normalize sexual misconduct and unless it results in physical assult, we do not take it seriously, Ramani.

Proceedings adjourned for the day. Matter to be taken up next on Monday.

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