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Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar: Court says the Right of Reputation cannot be safeguarded at the cost of a woman’s Right to Dignity, acquits Ramani

India is full of women like Priya Ramani, those who are sexually abused, harassed and ultimately silenced. After all, society tells us, women, to prioritise reputation over dignity and thus, silence over justice. The system is broken and we’re all victims of it. Every day when you see a woman crossing down the road coming back after a long day of work, she’s recalling the incidents of how her boss inappropriately touched her or how somebody in the public vehicle sat too close to her. And yes, every single day. So, to say that we’re all Priya Ramani isn’t too far-fetched and the justice to one Priya Ramani is a precedent for all the women in the country to not choose reputation over their dignity.

Speaking against sexual abuse is traumatizing and terrifying on its own, especially in a country where people put more blame on the victim than the culprit, and if that culprit is somebody with fame and authority- like former Union Minister M.J. Akbar, the trauma and terror doubles. As a result, the victim is bound to take her time to process, gather the courage and fight in her own time, irrespective of how long it takes. In the recent ruling of a defamation case against Priya Ramani filed by the former Union Minister M.J. Akbar, The Delhi court Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey ruled that a woman has a “right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.” So, to all the women thinking that maybe there’s no point speaking up after you’ve taken time to make a conscious decision, well there’s always a point.

#MeToo movement acted as a source to allow women to confront and talk about their incidents of being one of those many that have been victims of sexual assault, harassment or any such misdemeanour because it might be not all men, but there’s no denying the fact that definitely all women. Every woman at one point or other in her life has had experiences of harassment and it is damning that people chose to completely ignore the fact how the movement gave courage to so many women to speak up and instead belittled the movement in light of false cases.  Really shows you the state of mind of the society, doesn’t it?

It is not easy for any woman to stand up against any such abuse, and any woman like Priya Ramani who stood up gave courage to so many more to do it. After all, it’s very likely that if a man has inappropriately behaved with one woman, he must have done that to many other women who decided to stay quiet. It may be common, but it is not normal, as long as we don’t normalise it. On grounds to not normalise it, the court ruled, “A 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 the law and equal protection of the law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.

We live in a country where we worship politicians and turn a blind eye towards their actions because apparently, gods don’t make a mistake, do they?  It is so easy to blame the victim, question their morals and completely place a false allegation on the so-called moral grounds, but can it not be the case that a professionally reputed person has some hideous facts to define their personal life? It’s not something that we haven’t seen before, but it definitely is not something we like to easily acknowledge, just because we’re so blinded by their reputation. When more women came up with allegations against M.J. Akbar and testified against him in the court in the recent hearing, the court observed that “Despite how well respected some persons are in the society, they in their personal lives, could show extreme cruelty to the females.” Well, it is time we start seeing people as more than their reputation and image.

Workplace harassment is not new to any woman, especially those who worked before laws against such incidents as the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013. Disparities in wages, inequitable treatment in opportunities, promotions and so much more still define the female working industry and well, the complimentary harassment just makes it disappointing. The worst part about it is the lack of a proper redressal mechanism and grievance systems. Even though corporates are actively getting aware and adopting methods to ensure respectable treatment to everybody, we’re still a long way from reaching the goal of a harassment-free workplace and a safe working environment for women. The court took into consideration, “systematic abuse at the workplace due to lack of the mechanism to redress the grievance of sexual harassment at the time of the incident of sexual harassment against the accused Priya Ramani and witness Ghazala Wahab”.

We don’t realise the extent of these matters and complaints because we don’t see them getting justice very often. But if you think of it, the story that started with Priya Ramani writing an article about the experience of sexual assault without naming the accused, later converted into a story of 20 women alleging the same man for harassment, abuse and even rape, days after she named him in the light of MeToo movement. This simply points at the fact that the man was a predator, and there are so many more predators roaming free just because somebody didn’t believe the system would be just enough to believe them, and thus, the name stayed non-revealed and the person, still free. The Delhi High court ruling is basically that one light at the end of the tunnel which gave women the courage to cross that tunnel. So, cheers to women for not staying quiet anymore and cheers to the first actual win of the MeToo movement in India.

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