One of the historic judgments in the landmark and powerful “MeToo” movement has come from India this week. A Delhi court rejected a defamation case filed by powerful editor-politician MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani. Akbar, a former minister, had taken Ramani to court after she posted tweets and an article in Vogue Magazine levelling allegations of sexual harassment against him. Ramani claimed that MJ Akbar sexually harassed her in 1993 when she was called for a job interview at a five-star hotel in Mumbai.
Ramani’s explosive account opened floodgates and Akbar’s dirty secrets came out gushing as close to two dozen narrated their ordeals of facing sexual abuse by Akbar.
Ramani fought a brave 2-year-long battle where she, in her own words, “the victim, was made to stand as an accused”, in a court as a man drunk on power set out to make an “example” of her crying loss to his “reputation”.
The judgement is no less landmark than Ramani’s good fight. It deals with the issue of sexual harassment of women at workplace like no other.
It calls out the social stigma associated with talking about sexual abuse. The victim-shaming that goes around is one of the main reasons why most women silently endure abuse, while many only manage to talk about it several years later.
“Most of the women who suffer abuse do not speak up about it or against it for simple reasons: “The Shame” or the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment and abuse,” the judgment reads.
Any woman who opens up about sexual abuse shows immense courage in speaking up. It’s morally criminal to attach shame to the victim while the abuser roams around in the society flaunting his “womaniser” tag.
“Why didn’t she speak then?” is a common refrain heard in the wake of a woman speaking up several years after the abuse. She is quickly labelled a “gold-digger”, a “social climber”, a “bitch” or an “ambitious” woman turning bitter years after “using the man”. Nothing can be more inhuman.
It takes a lot of courage and fighting at many levels for women to be able to work and find financial independence, to live life on their own terms. It’s a daily struggle within the family and with the outside world. The single biggest reason that stops especially young women from speaking up is the fear of societal backlash. As much as a whimper about their boss or colleague trying to take undue advantage would mean families forcing them out of jobs and careers that they so struggle to keep.
Here comes one of the most significant lines from the judgement in Priya Ramani’s case: “The woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.”
The predatory men must know that there will be a cost to their actions. Today, tomorrow, or two decades later. And who are these men? Do they have horns? No. Here again, the judgment throws very thought-provoking lines at the society that has normalised sexual abuse by men in power positions.
“The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implications on victims. Society should understand that an abusive person is just like the rest of the other person and he too has family and friends. He can also be a well-respected person of the society.”
Just look around. Men who pretend to be “progressive, understanding, liberal, supportive” in their public life are, on many occasions, worst abusers in their private and professional lives who can do horrible things to women at their homes or workplaces. You see it’s the reputation they care about, not their actions in closed spaces. And that reputation must be demolished for others to learn from. Men who prey on women from their position of power can only behave themselves out of fear of loss of reputation not out of some utopian moral and ethical self-realisation.
“The woman cannot be punished for raising voice against the sex abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation as the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman…” the judgment puts it brilliantly.
Priya Ramani has won this one for all women. She was hauled over coals by a powerful man just for showing the courage of not wanting to live anymore with the trauma suffered 2 decades ago. He had the muscle, the top-notch lawyers, and his arrogance. She had the courage of conviction, truth, and few good women by her side. She won.
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