Union minister MJ Akbar on Monday filed a
criminal defamation complaint against a woman journalist, Priya Ramani, who had accused him of sexual harassment, alleging that "scandalous allegations" have been made to bring down his image in the society.
Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by several women journalists, including Ramani, who had worked with under him more than 15 years ago. He has denied the charges as "false, wild and baseless".
Reacting to the defamation case,
Ramani said she was "deeply disappointed" that the Minister sought to dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy and by filing the case he was seeking to "silence" the women complainants through intimidation and harassment.
"Needless to say, I am ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence," she said in a statement.
Several journalist bodies also expressed "deep disappointment" at Akbar's threat of legal action and demanded he must step down for the sake of an impartial probe into the allegations against him.
CNBC-TV18 caught up with Sujay Kantawala, senior lawyer, Suhasini Haidar diplomatic affairs editor,
The Hindu, AK Bhattacharya, editorial director, Business Standard, Sandhya Menon, senior journalist and Kamini Jaiswal, senior advocate, Supreme Court, to discuss the issue.
"Akbar has every right to defend himself. These are all charges, However, I think the ball is in the government's court that whether it wishes to respond to these charges and discuss these issues internally and take a position on whether it wants to have somebody in its council of ministers who has been accused of such charges," Bhattacharya said
Internationally whenever ministers or senators are accused of these charges even before they are fought out in a court of law, the ministers of senators themselves consider it necessary that they step down, he said.
In this case, Akbar has every right to defend himself but the government has to decide for itself whether it needs to act here or not. Also, the government should see whether Vishakha Guidelines apply or not, that is something there is no clarity on right now, Bhattacharya added.
"It is really disappointing that the government has taken absolutely no stand," said Menon.
On the one hand, it seems like they have washed their hands-off Akbar and on the other hand seems like he has a backing of the government or his party to brazen it out and file a suit against Priya Ramani, she said.
It is just ridiculous to intimidate like this. If you see the petition they have sent out a list of 97 lawyers, Menon said, adding that everyone knows that 97 lawyers are not needed for one defamation case against one Priya Ramani, so that is just a scare.
We saw lot of women coming on TV and social media and saying that they do not want to take it further and do not want to follow the legal process but just wanted to shame these people or individuals on social media
"The #MeToo movement has picked up momentum. If this movement is regulated and if there are certain guidelines, I am sure it will do a wealth of good. If a crime is committed it has to be punished," Kantawala said.
What is very important now with all this coming on social media and being discussed will now realise that it is important to take immediate action and not wait for 15 or 20 years for lot of water to flow down the bridge, when your witnesses won't be available and the truth will be lost, Kantawala added.
What the government does or chooses to do in the next few weeks, almost is representative of not just of what they are doing in this one case but how it expects to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, said Haider.
Disclosure: All matters brought to Network18’s attention which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our Internal Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the workplace for appropriate action. The Internal Committee is independent and all recommendations made by it are followed through by Management action. Network18 Group has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment. The company complies fully with all legal provisions and seeks to ensure a speedy and effective Redressal on complaints.