“It is wrong to suggest that Priya Ramani came to my room and I answered the door,” said former minister MJ Akbar in response to Ramani’s counsel and senior advocate Rebecca John’s question to him about it. In the hearing that took place on 20 May, John cross-examined MJ Akbar in his criminal defamation case against her before the Court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal. She further asked several questions around the Oberoi hotel incident and the specifics of the room.

On the hotel room incident

Ramani had earlier alleged that Akbar had called her to his hotel room for an interview meeting when she was 23 and he was 43 in a Vogue article published in 2017. She hadn’t named him in the article back then. But she wrote a tweet mentioning that it was, in fact, Akbar a year later which led Akbar to file a defamation case against her.

In the cross-examination conducted by John, Akbar denied all the questions with respect to the incident from receiving Ramani’s call to his hotel room from the hotel’s reception when she arrived that day for the interview to the details of the room.

In the cross-examination conducted by John, Akbar denied all the questions with respect to the incident from receiving Ramani’s call to his hotel room from the hotel’s reception when she arrived that day for the interview to the details of the room. He said he didn’t recall if it was Ramani’s first interview or not when John asked him about it. At this point, his counsel and senior advocate Geeta Luthra objected at this point on the kind of questions John was asking Akbar and their relevancy to the court.

“Since there was no meeting, it is wrong to suggest that I did not ask Priya Ramani about her writing skills, knowledge of current affairs or her ability to enter the world of journalism,” Akbar said on John’s interrogation.

John further put that “the answers given by Akbar today are false and tutored” to which he again refused. She asked him if he recalled that Priya Ramani was offered a job in the New Delhi office of The Asian Age in 1994? And Akbar said that he is not sure about it since it was a matter of 25 years ago. Although he added that she was working in the Mumbai office. “I do not specifically recall that she asked for a transfer to Bombay office after ten days. She would have moved to Bombay with the permission of the Editor if it did happen,” MJ Akbar told the court.

John asked him if he is aware that Ramani quit The Asian Age in October 1994, Ramani and joined Reuters and that after she left the office she never worked with him again. To which he said that it may be correct. “I am not aware of Ramani’s career details,” Akbar answered when John asked him if he knows that Ramani has been a journalist for over 20 years.

On the Harvey Weinstein case and its connection to Ramani’s article

After quizzing Akbar on the hotel room incident and Ramani working with him at Asian age, John moved to question him about his knowledge on the Harvey Weinstein incident wherein 2017 several actors, models and others from Hollywood made sexual harassment allegations against Director and Co-founder of Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein. Akbar responded in affirmative when John asked him if he is aware of the Weinstein episode. His counsel Luthra objected to John’s questioning Akbar about the Weinstein case as it is “irrelevant” to this case in her opinion.

John related the questions about Weinstein to Akbar with the fact that article Ramani wrote was titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world”.

John related the questions about Weinstein to Akbar with the fact that article Ramani wrote was titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world”. She also established that in the article, only the portion that started from “You taught me my first workplace lesson” to “…I swore I would never be in a room alone with you again.” refers to Akbar.

However, Akbar responded to it and said, “It is incorrect to suggest that only a part of the Vogue Article refers to me. Published version did not have my name. It is only in the tweet that she confirmed that it was about me.”

“It is wrong to suggest that the remaining portion of the article refers to the experiences of other women with other bosses, in particular, Harvey Weinstein,” MJ Akbar added.

John continues to question Akbar if he is aware that various articles on Harvey Weinstein and his unwelcome sexual encounters with Hollywood actors, models, etc. were extensively investigated and written about in 2017? MJ Akbar further answers that it is in his knowledge.

She then names the four articles written in different publications including The New Yorker, New York Times and Variety magazine around the Weinstein case and asks Akbar if he is aware of them and he responds negatively to it and that he hasn’t read any of them.

She then names the four articles written in different publications including The New Yorker, New York Times and Variety magazine around the Weinstein case and asks Akbar if he is aware of them and he responds negatively to it and that he hasn’t read any of them.  John put to him that certain portions in Ramani’s vogue article are extracted from these articles.

It is wrong to suggest that I was always aware that portions in Ramani’s article referred to other male bosses. The article begins with ‘male boss’ and not with male bosses, Akbar said adding that he denies that male boss was a generic term. “It is wrong to suggest that the title of the article makes it clear that it referred to male bosses and not to some individual,” Akbar stated.

It is wrong to suggest that in the tweet “never mentioned him because he didn’t do anything wrong” were used as a sarcastic stance, Akbar said on John’s questioning.

“Nothing happened. There was no meeting,” he said on being asked if the words ‘didn’t do anything’ in Ramani’s tweet meant that nothing physical happened between the two.

On the tweets and allegations made by others

John then refers to tweets and retweets made by several others making allegations against Akbar including Prashanto K Roy and Shuma Raha to which he said that they are all false allegations. She also referred to senior journalist Gazala Wahab’s tweet tagging Akbar which said “I wonder when the floodgates will open about @mjakbar” and asked him if he is aware of it. Akbar said that he doesn’t know about it. She also questioned his awareness on some other persons’ tweets, as well as Akbar, denied them.

John grilled him further on several other tweets by other journalists in which they shared their encounters with Akbar and questions him whether he is aware of them or not. He denied a few questions and others he said that he doesn’t remember because those incidents happened way back in time.

John pulled up an article by Wahab published in The Wire in which she recounted her own experience of working with Akbar and alleged him of harassment. She asked him if he has read it and is he made a press statement refuting the allegations by Wahab after his return from South Africa in October 2018 which he accepted but denied reading the second article written by Wahab after he refuted her allegations against him.

Lastly, John questioned him about a foreign intern who also alleged sexual harassment against Akbar when she worked under him between 2006 and 2007 at Asian age.

Lastly, John questioned him about a foreign intern who also alleged sexual harassment against Akbar when she worked under him between 2006 and 2007 at Asian age. The woman gave the account of her experience of working with Akbar and how he allegedly harassed her in an article published in The Huffington Post. She further asked him if it is true that the woman’s father confronted him on email about the incident to which he apologized.

“I cannot confirm the content of the email. I can truly assert that there was absolutely no question of any harassment of the lady. I recall that there might have been a mention of some misunderstanding which was accepted,” said Akbar as the court adjourned the hearing for the day.

MJ Akbar had to step down from his position as a union minister due to sexual harassment allegations by at least 18 women (including Ramani),  which included a rape allegation by NPR business editor Pallavi Gogoi. These women had worked with him over the years of his journalistic career.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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