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More than half the battle against sexual harassment is lost because of victims being inhibited or threatened into silence. The inhibition is a product of social and cultural factors that makes the victim — overwhelmingly a woman — feel more shameful than shamed against. And the threats emanate from the ‘traditional’ power structure that makes a male perpetrator feel empowered enough to get away with his crime. In the case of journalist Priya Ramani being accused of defaming former editor and ex-minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar, not only were these prods applied, but she was also accused of having ‘caused irreparable damage to [his] stellar reputation’.
Ramani was not cowed down by patriarchal and ‘VIP culture’ SOP. By acquitting Ramani on Wednesday, the Delhi district court has given more power to Ramani’s kind. It clearly stated that ‘women cannot be punished for raising their voice against sexual abuse… [or] be punished on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation’. As a high-profile case, this will go a long way in encouraging women to speak up against sexual harassers.
The court underlined that a person’s ‘right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity’. The dice, almost always loaded in favour of the doubly empowered/protected ‘man in high places’ — Akbar, then an editor of a publication, was interviewing Ramani for a job when he allegedly harassed her — and against the abused woman, has been ‘unloaded’. Importantly, the court added that a woman has ‘a right to air her grievance on any platform of her choice… even after decades [of the crime allegedly committed]’. A little push is what was needed for women to not keep quiet about sexual harassers. The court has provided that push.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.