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Ramani Wiped 50 Years Of My Hard Work With One Stroke: MJ Akbar

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have no affiliation with eminent and senior journalist MJ Akbar of any kind and I have never met him in person nor am I affiliated in any way with his political party BJP of which he is a member and earlier was Union Minister of State also for External Affairs. But ever since I gained senses I have been a regular reader of his scholarly articles in most prestigious magazines like “India Today” among others and so also in many eminent newspapers. I used to enjoy reading his learned articles most when I was in school and in college even though later also I made it a point to always read his articles! I was most shocked to learn when his name figured in a controversy and when his name was dragged in it. To be brutally honest, it was the worst shock that I could ever have imagined in my life!

Needless to say, MJ Akbar has always enjoyed an impeccable reputation and even his worst critic could never have questioned his unimpeachable conduct, his impeccable reputation until Priya Ramani raised serious questions marks on his conduct. MJ Akbar through his counsel argued that it was journalist Priya Ramani who “targeted him” for which he was prompted to file the defamation complaint.

It may be recalled that  MJ Akbar was left with no option but to resign as Union Minister of State for External Affairs even before the charges have been proved against him in any court and he too became a victim of “MeToo Media Trial”! Hang him if he is guilty but condemning him even before charges have been framed against him in any court and tarnishing his “impeccable reputation” which he has earned in his entire life in just few seconds cannot be justified under any circumstances! MJ Akbar could have easily continued as a Minister but he preferred to resign and first challenge those who tarnished his impeccable reputation in court.

Bluntly put: Is MJ Akbar not entitled to the benefit of the due process of law and legal defence? Should he not be given a chance to prove his innocence? There are many senior eminent women journalists like Tavleen Singh who have always appreciated him and have said that they have never experienced any such “alleged misconduct” from him but this is never highlighted in the media! Tavleen Singh is most famous for calling a spade a spade and she never fears anyone! How can all this be ignored?

Most recently, a woman journalist deposed in court in his favour and admired his upright approach in always dealing with her. Only the numbers are highlighted that 16 or 17 women have levelled most serious charges against him but I want to ask: Why they never dared to lodge FIR against him in any police station of India till now? Why they kept quiet for so many years? Why inspite of being professional they chose to keep quiet? Were they not aware of their legal rights?

Going forward: Why did they not immediately complaint? Why they didn’t spill the beans earlier? Why was there a consensual conspiracy of silence? Why were they lured to keep quiet? Why they compromised themselves just for getting some material benefit? Are they not guilty just like an adulterous women?

It also cannot be ignored that Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan asked: “If someone makes an allegation that such a thing happened when the incident happened we were playing together while in class 5. Would it be fair? The ‘MeToo’ movement had sullied the image of the country. Will it be right for men to start making similar accusations like them.” Even Union Minister for Tourism K Alphons had cautioned against frivolous complaints by “insincere” people with an agenda. He said that, “People should be extremely careful when they raise an allegation. Yes, if something inappropriate has taken place, it should be in public domain. There should not be any doubt about it, but I hope frivolous complaints are not raised by insincere people to fix people whom they do not like.”

We heard earlier  how KWAN founder Anirban Das attempted suicide after sexual misconduct allegations but was saved by an alert police team patrolling the Navi Mumbai bridge! MJ Akbar has vowed to fight for sake of his reputation till the end! There are very few who care for what “mental trauma” a man undergoes when false allegations are levelled against him and he is defamed by “media trial” to the fullest even before charges are framed against him in any court! This must stop once and for all as it mutilates and maims to pieces a men’s integral right to reputation and right not to be defamed and denounced even before any court takes cognizance of the charges levelled against him!

“You do me favors, I do you favors 30 years later

lets call it “me too”

A strong woman does not wait 30, 20, 10 years to speak up, she slaps him on the first “bad touch” and knocks him out

Don’t hide your weakness, the favors in returns that you enjoyed and the work you got by “I was too scared” cry now

You were scared to say NO then because its hard to stand up for what is right and you were scared to loose your status and position in the work place, so YOU CHOOSE to accept the molestation and went back for more …Its very easy to play the abla nari card later and gain sympathy

The Shakti does not wait later to speak up, she silences the evil on spot…

My thoughts on this nonsense of me too

I don’t have me too stories …anyone who tried got a tight slap then and there and I was never afraid to walk out with my head held high ..be it a Job or relationship!

“strong women don’t have me too sob

Stories, they have I gave him thappad

(slap) back short essays”.”

–        Geetanjali Arora in Sunday Times of India dated October 21, 2018

Every person must applaud, admire and appreciate Geetanjali Arora for what she has written so courageously on 9 October at 5.35 pm which got published on October 21 in one of the most reputed newspapers of India – The Times Of India! Why should women be treated always as victims? Why should women keep quiet for many decades and then speak up if she herself has nothing to hide from the world?

Does men have no right? Should only women have all the right to speak up whenever she likes? Very few know that a woman had levelled serious allegations against eminent film actor Jitender about an act allegedly done by him 47 years ago when she was very young but the Himachal Pradesh High Court didn’t accept it and rejected the petition as it said that the time limit of lodging the complaint within the limitation period of 3 years was not complied with!

Anyway, coming to the case at hand, while appearing before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey, senior women advocate Geeta Luthra further argued that Ramani didn’t feel the need to check with the Ministry, department or PRO to confirm if he had resigned before tweeting that he did. “You wiped out 50 years of his hard work with one stroke,” submitted Luthra while rebutting the submissions of Ramani’s lawyer, senior counsel Rebecca John. John had on a previous occasion submitted that, “It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person if it for the public good… If the imputation of sexual harassment is in good faith and for public it is not defamation. It is not defamation if the imputation relates to something that touches a public question.”

While contesting this submission, Geeta Luthra quipped: “Good faith would have been if you had any evidence. It can’t be for public good. Public good doesn’t mean you will malign someone’s image. Public good is when you’re making a statement then you have to do it with responsibility.”

Most significantly, Geeta Luthra very rightly pointed out while referring to a sexual harassment incident that, “Just by calling it my truth, doesn’t make it a truth… you haven’t proved whether you have made a call to the complainant, you haven’t proved that you met (Akbar).” Luthra also further pointed out that, “This version is a figment of imagination and not truth..After 30 years you are trying to bring something without any evidence. It is all in the air.”

While stating that “whether you make a whisper that a person is a thief or a cheat” it has to be backed with evidence. Luthra told the court that, “You have to have empirical evidence which can stand scrutiny in the court of law. There is no such evidence in this case. There is no investigation.”

As it turned out, Luthra then read out the statement of a witness, Joyeeta Basu who had testified from Akbar’s side. Basu, Luthra claimed, was called a tutored witness. Calling Basu a respected journalist, the counsel said she was a natural witness unlike Ramani’s witness. Luthra also added that, “Her witness is her friend who doesn’t know anything about the alleged incident.”

Needless to say, for Akbar, the defamation complaint was filed as the “malicious tweets by Ramani” had “destroyed my reputation in the eyes of the society”. Luthra also read out another testimony of one Akbar’s witnesses, Sunil Gujral to assert that his reputation was “impeccable”. Gujral was stated to have known Akbar for a long time personally and professionally.

MJ Akbar through his counsel Luthra rightly submitted that, “Harm is done by the man who instigates and ignites the first flame.” The submissions were made by Luthra before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey. While reading Ramani’s testimony, Luthra told the court that, “She wrote an article without naming anyone because it was a piece of fiction..You said you didn’t name him because he didn’t do anything. The tweet doesn’t say that I’m saying all this because so many women are speaking up.”

Moreover, it cannot be lightly dismissed that MJ Akbar also told the court that Priya Ramani “deliberately, intentionally and maliciously” destroyed evidence by deleting the Twitter account. Akbar’s lawyer Geeta Luthra told the court that, “This strange argument that this Twitter account, the court didn’t tell me to save so I didn’t. How can one take a defence like this?” Luthra also told the court that Ramani knew there was a criminal complaint pending against her.

More to the point, Geeta Luthra also pertinently told the court that, “These are all tweets. They were all primary evidence. Can she destroy evidence…another criminal case can be made out. I would have wanted to cross examine her. This whole thing is destruction of evidence which is not something which is not viewed very seriously…suppose the court wanted to see it. Fact is that everything has been deliberately destroyed to subvert the cause of justice.

Furthermore, Luthra also told the court that, “All evidence which was part of the trial..deliberately, intentionally, maliciously has been destroyed by deleting the Twitter account. These lies have left me defending my reputation in the last few years. It is unpardonable. I wonder at what kind of cost has it come to you. You have damaged a person’s 50 years of reputation.” Luthra also said that, “There was no overt physical attack.”

Adding further more, Luthra said that, “Here also she is self contradictory. She said it was sarcasm then takes alternate defence. Sarcasm is also defamation. Did he do anything or not do anything..same can’t have a non-sarcastic meaning and still be sarcastic…First she says first fourt para are about her. But then talks about ‘shared experience’. Whom did she interview? This has to be before the cause of action. She says it’s my story..what is she trying? Every sentence when examined is contradictory to the next.”

 

Truth be told, Akbar had filed a defamation case in 2018 stating that Ramani’s allegations were viewed and read by several people online and he received numerous calls from friends and colleagues from the media and political sphere. For having reportedly suffered “great humiliation” and his reputation being “severely tarnished” he had sought court’s intervention. Luthra reiterated that Ramani had some other motive and “there is no public interest. There is no good faith.”

Without mincing any words, Luthra said that, “What she (Ramani) said does not mean predator. Many people in positions of hierarchy are more powerful but you can’t call them a predator. There are many words to describe a junior-senior relationship.” Luthra also told the court that, “You cannot turn around and say that you are calling a person the media’s biggest predator…You are a journalist. You have to be responsible ..You can’t write as if without any sense of responsibility or accountability..It doesn’t matter what people say post facto. Harm is done by the man who instigates and ignites the first flame. She is not an eye witness. It is fabricated. She is an interested witness.” Luthra told the court that the meaning of the word predator is a person who has propensity for violent sexual behaviour.

What has really shaken me most is the enlightening editorial written by Ramesh Thakur who is Professor of Public Policy, Australian National University in ‘The Times Of India’ dated November 9, 2018 titled “Believe Evidence Over Gender” which begins by coming straight to the point saying that, “The #MeToo campaign began as a long overdue effort to call out men abusing positions of power and authority to exploit vulnerable women sexually, but then morphed into some settling of scores for dates gone wrong. In the age of social media, #MeToo swarms of screaming mobs, and bird-dogging, the wildest accusations are amplified instantaneously across the whole world. This makes the charge themselves a powerful political weapon.” He rightly suggests the following to check mud slinging matches: “First, ensure anonymity for both or neither. Name only the guilty party after the trial. If the verdict is inconclusive, keep all names confidential. Second, treat both accuser and accused with sympathy, respect and courtesy. Evaluate the testimony of both with equal skepticism, ask questions accordingly, and weigh their statements against the facts. Everyone deserves a fair hearing: no one deserves to be believed in the absence of evidence; and shifting evidence and timeline to suit the narrative warrants over suspicion. Third, match the prosecution and penalty for false accusations to those of conviction. This will put in place a powerful deterrent. Without consequences, the political weaponisation of false charges will continue. Above all, believe evidence over gender. Senator Susan Collins was branded a rape apologist for doing so.”

It was in 2018 that we saw how in a landmark judgment titled ‘Joseph Shine v Union of India’, the Supreme Court led by Justice Dr DY Chandrachud very rightly decriminalized adultery as it felt that sex with consent cannot be crime and he overruled his father’s decision rendered earlier in Sowmithri Vishnu in 1985! Law has to change with time. Even the definition of rape needs change and sex with consent should not be termed rape. A woman after having consensual sex with a men for many years cannot and should not be allowed suddenly to scream rape and play the victim card by weeping!  The moot question that arises here is: Why the women promptly didn’t lodge complaint if she was forced to enter into sexual relationship? Also, why always men alone be condemned? What if it was women who lured men into sex? Why always women version is to be believed? Why should women not be punished and sent to jail for at least an year if she levels false allegations against a men solely for denigrating, damaging and destroying his untarnished reputation in front of the world? Why should she not be made to pay compensation to him for tarnishing his reputation in front of the world? Why can’t the laws be suitably amended in this regard? Why should only women have right to reputation and right not to be defamed and denounced? Why do we ignore that our laws and Constitution treats men and women as alike? Why should men be deprived of the basic fundamental tenet of law that everyone is innocent until proven guilty?

It cannot be lightly dismissed that in a criminal case, where the accused will forfeit his liberty if convicted, the standard of proof required to convict him not just is higher but also needs to be proved “beyond all reasonable doubt”. It is high time and all news channels and media groups should refrain from just glamourising “#MeToo” movement and should instead always convince so called “female victims” to approach the court at the earliest and not after 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years and fight the legal battle which would seek evidence for both prosecution and proving innocence instead of just levelling the most damning allegations after many decades which only exposes her to “defamation suits” to get real justice for herself! Also, it must be ensured that the identity of both the women levelling the allegations and the men against whom allegations are levelled are not revealed in public until the case is decided at least in the lower court! Such cases too must be decided at the earliest and not after many years as the reputation of both the women and the men suffers enormously which only robs them of their right to privacy which just recently in KS Puttaswamy case has been declared to be a fundamental right!

It is high time and now women too must be jailed and punished for levelling false allegations. Section 498A of IPC and so also Domestic Violence Act is many times misused and so there must be strict provision for punishing women if her allegations turn out to be false. Women is now no less inferior to men in any field. Then why should she be given blank cheque of exemption if she levels false charge against any men? Even men has the right to reputation and dignity just like women which gets severely compromised when women levels false and wild allegations against men and so should never go unpunished under any circumstances!

I am certainly not against women getting justice who have suffered at the hands of men but I also simultaneously favour the reasoned and logical stand that, “Men too have right not to be defamed and denounced without facing strictest legal scrutiny in accordance with due procedure of law”. Every Indian women must always abide by what Geetanjali Arora who is herself a female has said which I have quoted right at the beginning! Women are beating men in studies and outsmarting them in every field then why should they take things lying down when it comes to sexual offences?

Why not lodge complaint at the first place instead of just indulging in character assassination after many years as part of “#MeToo” campaign and getting defamed yourself also and making a huge public spectacle of yourself? Now it is for women to decide for themselves which course of action they would like to adopt but now they must stop laying the victim card and abide in totality by what Geetanjali Arora has said so rightly and never tolerate any sort of any misconduct from any men under any circumstances whatsoever! It is high time and now women must be actually treated at par with men by not always allowing women to play always the “victim card” and encouraging her to always take men head on whenever any men dares to violate her physical or mental integrity in any manner instead of waking up after decades! There can be certainly no denying it!

Needless to say, MJ Akbar’s case is still pending in court and we have to keep our fingers crossed till the case is finally decided. But certainly the immeasurable pain, anguish and heart bleed that MJ Akbar faced is clearly apparent and one only hopes that justice is done with him and I am sure that judiciary will vindicate the unflinching faith that he has posed in it!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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