It has taken a couple of days for the significance of a Delhi Court’s acquittal of journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case brought against her by former editor and minister M.J. Akbar, to really sink in. There is so much to celebrate and much that provides hope.
In India it has been very difficult to call impunity to account. At a time when men accused of grievous sexual abuse in the entertainment industry have been reinstated and are working freely, allegations against a former chief justice of India were disposed of with flagrant lack of due process and the accusations against Mr Akbar were backed up by statements of no less than 20 journalists – yet it was a woman who had to stand trial.
World over, women have tried to highlight the patriarchal power that makes sexual harassment invisible and continues to silence and discredit women’s voices. It is encouraging then, that Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey gave primacy to Ms Ramani’s word.
The court in its order, made important observations on sexual harassment, its effect on survivors and the social stigma attached to it.
“Most of the women who suffer abuse do not speak up about it or against it for simple reason “The Shame” or the social stigma attached with the sexual harassment and abuse. The sexual abuse, if committed against woman, takes away her dignity and her self-confidence. The attack on the character of sex abuser or offender by sex abuse victim, is the reaction of self-defence after the mental trauma suffered by the victim regarding the shame attached with the crime committed against her. 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 as guaranteed in Indian Constitution under article 21 and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under article 14 of the Constitution.”
Observing that “even a man of social status can be a sexual harasser”, the court acknowledged that a woman’s right to speak up about her violations was not restricted by the passage of time or to any specific place or platform.
For us at WCC, this moment is marked incandescently by the courage of Priya Ramani and the other women who spoke up, even at great cost to themselves, by the unwavering commitment of the team of lawyers led by Rebecca Mammen John who fought this good fight and last but not least, by the strength of the women’s movement that has made it possible for women to speak and be heard and that has brought about laws that provide some semblance of hope for gender justice.