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Indian Woman Sued For Defamation Over #MeToo Complaint Against Her Boss Is Acquitted

Photo caption:

Photo by AP

Indian journalist Priya Ramani (left) smiles as she leaves Patiala House Court in New Delhi in 2019. A New Delhi court on Wednesday acquitted Ramani of criminal defamation after she accused a former editor-turned-politician and junior external affairs minister, M.J. Akbar, of sexual harassment.

A court in New Delhi delivered a verdict Wednesday in one of India's most high-profile #MeToo cases. But it was the accuser herself who was on trial, not the man she alleged had sexually harassed her.

In 2018, when journalist Priya Ramani accused her former editor of sexually harassing her in a hotel room two decades earlier, it triggered a flood of similar allegations against Mobashar Jawed Akbar, who goes by M.J. Akbar and had since become a government minister. More than 20 other women came forward with similar stories, including allegations of rape. They fueled the #MeToo movement in India.

Akbar denied the allegations and sued Ramani for criminal defamation. On Wednesday, she was acquitted.

"I feel vindicated on behalf of all the women who have ever spoken out against sexual harassment," a smiling Ramani told reporters outside the courtroom.

In October 2018, Ramani tweeted that the unnamed "male boss" she had described in an article for Vogue, who made inappropriate advances toward her during a job interview in a hotel room, was Akbar. She called him a "sexual predator." His other accusers include a former intern and colleagues.

Ramani's account was part of a wave of sexual harassment allegations that flooded social media in India in 2018 as part of the global #MeToo movement. Akbar, now 70, is one of the most high-profile individuals to be accused. Others include Bollywood actors, comedians and a former chief justice at India's Supreme Court.

Akbar has called the allegations against him "wild and baseless." He had been serving as a junior minister in India's external affairs ministry but resigned in 2018 after the allegations came to light.

But he still has not faced any criminal proceedings himself. None of his alleged victims has filed charges.

According to a 2018 social media poll of more than 15,000 people, 78% of those sexually harassed at the workplace in India don't report it. In 2013, India enacted new guidelines against sexual harassment in the workplace but experts say enforcing the law remains a challenge.

Nevertheless, activists are hailing Wednesday's verdict as a victory for women's rights in India.

In its landmark order, the court said that sexual abuse takes away the dignity and self-confidence of a woman and that the "right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity." The court also said that a woman has the right to raise her voice against sexual harassment even if the incident happened decades ago.

On social media, Ramani was applauded as a hero.

"My victory will definitely encourage more women to speak up and make powerful men think twice before they take victims to court," she told Indian media.

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