In the defamation case filed by former union minister, MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani for alleging sexual misconduct by him, Ramani’s friend, Niloufer Venkatraman, took the stand for cross-examination on Thursday, November 21. The case is being heard in the Delhi Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Vishal Pahuja where Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra resumed the cross-examination of Venkatraman from where she left on October 26 when it started.

Luthra suggested that Venkatraman has not produced the call details of the office telephone which was being used at her mother’s office in 1993. “It is wrong to suggest that such records were not produced because no call was made to me by the accused (Ramani),” responded Venkatraman.

Ramani opened up about the sexual harassment incident involving Akbar in a Vogue article in 2017 that she wrote at the onset of the MeToo movement in America when several members of the Hollywood industry accused film producer, Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. In that article, she hadn’t named Akbar but when a similar movement kicked off in India, she revealed that Akbar was the alleged harasser that she wrote about in that article when she started it with an anecdote from her personal life. The anecdote dates back to 1993 when Ramani had gone to meet Akbar in the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai for an interview and it was in his room that he allegedly misbehaved with her.

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Then advocate Luthra asked about her Twitter activity to which she said that she is not very active on Twitter. “I often read but I don’t tweet,” said Venkatraman. Luthra interrogated if Venkatraman’s last tweets before October 2018 (when Ramani accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment on Twitter) were in 2017 and 2016.

In the final series of arguments, Ramani denied piercing accusations by Luthra calling the allegations made by Ramani “a figment of the imagination and a work of fiction” for “oblique motive.”

“It is possible that I have tweeted only once in 2016 and once in 2017 but I do not recollect exactly,” answers Venkatraman.

On Luthra’s asking her whether she has read Ramani’s statement before the court, Venkatraman denied and said, “I have been following this case through media,” adding that she cannot say whether the media reports on the proceeding of the case and on Ramani’s statement in the court have been verbatim or not.

Luthra, then, shows Venkatraman a printout of her retweet on Ramani’s tweet, to which Niloufer counters, “It is wrong to depose that I have deposed on the lines of the accused on legal advice and I am a tutored witness.”

While Luthra requested the ACMM, Pahuja to stop live-tweeting of the proceedings of the case, he dismissed it by asking if there was any application submitted for the same and asked the journalists to take note. However, live-tweeting continued. Here comes the end of Venkatraman’s disposition before the court as she stands discharged.

Priya Ramani took the stand after Venkatraman and Luthra made the same suggestion she made to Venkatraman about producing the call records from back in 1993. Ramani responds, “I have not produced the call record of making any call to the home landline of Niloufer in the year 1993. It is wrong to suggest that no such record was produced because I had not made any calls.”

“It is wrong to suggest that I read the comments on my tweets on 8.10.2018 and anticipating that MJ Akbar may take legal action against me, I asked Niloufer to send me WhatsApp messages which I have shown to Court to fabricate false evidence..,” she added.

She also denied the suggestion made by Luthra, “the messages were sent on your instructions as there were immediately numerous comments that she would be sued.”

“It is wrong to suggest that I and Niloufer were in the knowledge even before you posted the tweet and that we pre-planned to fabricate false evidence in the anticipation of any legal action that may be taken following my tweet,” disposes Ramani.

“It is wrong to suggest that such records were not produced because no call was made to me by the accused (Ramani),” responded Venkatraman.

The hearing proceeded with Luthra projecting a series of questions on Ramani around her conversation with Venkatraman via WhatsApp alluding that she pre-planned the accusations with her and that the evidence submitted by her are “fabricated.”

Ramani opposed, “It is wrong to suggest that the screenshot has been tampered with. It is wrong to suggest that I have not mentioned the procedure that I adopted for taking out the print out. It is wrong to suggest that I have given a false certificate under Sec 65B Evidence Act to support my defence.” However, she agreed that she did not mention the date on which she took the screenshot of the WhatsApp messages or took the print out.

Luthra: Do you know that when one takes a screenshot, it is saved in png, jpeg format?
Ramani: Yes.

She accepted that she had not filed any Pendrive or CD containing the screenshot on record. “I checked my twitter record with respect to a corrigendum issued by me. Since there were a lot of tweet threads and I was unable to find my clarification. On 24th Oct, I reactivated my twitter account to check for the clarification. As of today it is again deactivated,” Ramani said.

Luthra suggested that according to Twitter’s terms and conditions, a deactivated account stands deleted if not reactivated in 30 days, but Ramani rebutted saying, “Twitter gives an option to deactivate your account for one year.”

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In the final series of arguments, Ramani denied piercing accusations by Luthra calling the allegations made by Ramani “a figment of the imagination and a work of fiction” for “oblique motive.” She also rejected the argument which suggested that she made “malafide and extraneous motive” for making the allegations against Akbar.

Then advocate Luthra asked about her Twitter activity to which she said that she is not very active on Twitter. “I often read but I don’t tweet,” said Venkatraman. Luthra interrogated if Venkatraman’s last tweets before October 2018 (when Ramani accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment on Twitter) were in 2017 and 2016.

She defended herself by saying, “It is wrong to suggest that my conduct as a journalist has been unethical as I had neither identified my sources nor attributed credits,” and defended her tweets which Luthra called “wrong, defamatory and malicious.”

Ramani finally concluded, “It is wrong to suggest that it has harmed the reputation of the complainant. It is wrong to suggest that my tweets and publication had nothing to do with ‘doing the right thing’. I have not deposed falsely.”

The case will proceed with its next hearing on December 10.

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