NEW DELHI: The acquittal of journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case filed by former Union minister and editor MJ Akbar may be another turning point for the ‘MeToo’ movement in India and will encourage more women to speak up against their harassers, feel activists.
“While we are happy about the acquittal of a woman intimidated with criminal defamation by someone who she had accused of harassing her sexually in the past, it’s also a moment to celebrate because it will bolster the confidence of thousands of other women too,” said women’s right activist Indu Malhotra.
In 2018, Ramani had named Akbar as having harassed her years ago during India’s MeToo movement in which a number of women, mainly in entertainment, film and media industries, had called out alleged predators while sharing their ordeals of harassment.
The reason to be joyous, said Malhotra, was that a woman came forward and stood her ground against a powerful man even though there was immense pressure to withdraw.
Supreme Court lawyer and activist Meera Bhatia agreed too. “This judgment is important because it signifies that a woman who has been abused in the past can come out at any point of time and will not be persecuted for that reason,” she said. “While the pursuit of the harassment case may be equally important, it is also momentous that a woman has not been hauled up for the delay in naming her harasser and narrating her tale.”
Malhotra pointed out a major drawback in the existing laws related to sexual harassment at the workplace which means that cases for the want of lack of evidence are treated as false complaints in courts.
“While I am not saying that there may be no false complaints at all—this crucial flaw means that many women who feel they cannot prove their charges never take the fight legally or are dubbed as false complainants later,” she said.
Another activist, who is also a documentary filmmaker, pointed out that the Covid-induced lockdown and the general economic crises over the last several months have ended up making women even more vulnerable to harassment at the workplace.
“Therefore, it is important that they get all the support they need and this acquittal will definitely add to women’s collective confidence,” she said.