The cross-examination of former Minister of State, Foreign Affairs MJ Akbar in the defamation case that he filed against journalist Priya Ramani took place in the district court in Delhi today i.e. July, 6, 2019. During the cross-examination conducted by Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John, Akbar accepted that he remembered working with Pallavi Gogoi in 1994 at the Asian Age office. He also agreed to his wife Mallika Akbar’s statement reported by ANI, a portion of which read, “At an Asian Age party at our home, crowded with young journalists, I have watched with mortification as they (MJ Akbar and Pallavi) dance very close”.

The curious case of Pallavi Gogoi 

In November last year, Gogoi made allegations of rape against Akbar in an article that she wrote for The Washington Post. Akbar responded to the allegations in an interview with ANI and said, “Somewhere around 1994, Ms Pallavi Gogoi and I entered into a consensual relationship that spanned several months. This relationship gave rise to talk and would later cause strife in my home life as well. This consensual relationship ended, perhaps, not on the best note.”

“Somewhere around 1994, Ms Pallavi Gogoi and I entered into a consensual relationship that spanned several months. This relationship gave rise to talk and would later cause strife in my home life as well. This consensual relationship ended, perhaps, not on the best note.”

After him, his wife also released a statement denying rape allegations and sharing her side of the story of what happened between Gogoi and Akbar.

Pic credit:
Pic credit: The Asian Age

Also read: MJ Akbar Denies Meeting Priya Ramani In Hotel Room

On being asked by John if he was aware that Gogoi was 24 years old in 1994, he said that it was possible and on the further question whether he was aware that “Gogoi was 20 years younger to him and was his subordinate?” he said that, “it is correct”.

However, he denied when John grilled him if he knew that today Gogoi is a celebrated Journalist and has worked at Dow Jones, BusinessWeek, USA Today, Associated Press, CNN, and is currently the Business head at NPR.

When John suggested that Akbar’s response to Gogoi’s article was based on legal advice to preempt any legal action against him, he stated that it was wrong to suggest that.

Only filed defamation case against Priya Ramani

The former journalist-turned-politician also accepted the fact that he knew that several women had made allegations against when he filed the defamation case against Ramani. When John asked if he had filed any complaint of defamation against any other person, Indian or international publication, Twitter or Vogue wherein the allegations against him were published, he responded in negative adding, “I reserve my right to take legal action against any other person or above mentioned entities also in future”.

Since noted wildlife conservationist and journalist Prerna Singh Bindra (present in the court) also made a series of tweets to recount her experience of sexual misconduct by Akbar in October after Ramani’s tweets. John grilled Akbar on his memory of working with Bindra at Asian Age between 2000-2002 where she was the Features Editor.

Since noted wildlife conservationist and journalist Prerna Singh Bindra (present in the court) also made a series of tweets to recount her experience of sexual misconduct by Akbar in October after Ramani’s tweets. John grilled Akbar on his memory of working with Bindra at Asian Age between 2000-2002 where she was the Features Editor. While Akbar admitted to working with her he said that he wasn’t aware of the tweets posted by her on the social media site.

Memory escapes Akbar on important dates

He also claimed to have forgotten the date of his arrival from the official South Africa tour in October last year—the time when women journalists had just started speaking up against him—and the exact date when he filed the defamation case against Ramani. Reportedly, Akbar returned from his trip on October 14 and he filed the case a day after his return i.e October 15. Though he remembered that he made a statement addressing the allegations right after his return from SA, he said he doesn’t remember the details.

John moved to question him whether his witnesses Joyeeta Basu, Veenu Sandal, Sunil Gujral, Rachna Grover, Tapan Chaki contacted him in while he was on tour in South Africa regarding the tweets made by Priya Ramani. He said, “I don’t remember the exact date or whether they contacted me in Africa” However, they did discuss the allegations made by Ramani and the other women “expressing shock” before he filed the case.

Also read: Priya Ramani Pleads “Not Guilty” in MJ Akbar Defamation Case

He denied all the suggestions made by John including his witnesses being “tutored and examined just to fulfill the legal requirements,” that he “has been selective in filing the case only against Ramani in order to target her and to correct an all around chilling effect,” and that he “has progressively tried to improve my case since the filing of the complaint”.

Pic credit: NDTV

Akbar’s knowledge on MeToo India and Metoo abroad

John brought the cross-examination to a close by questioning Akbar on his knowledge of the #MeToo movement in India and abroad. She asked him if he knows that the #MeToo movement in India began on social media and that the #Metoo in India is a manifestation of #MeToo abroad? To this, he said that while he was aware that it started, he did not know that it started on social media. He also did know not know of the sequential relationship between the #MeToo movement in India and abroad.

John suggested that the article and tweets of Ramani were meant to raise awareness and persuasiveness of the sexual harassment at the workplace adding that the  disclosures pertaining to him were made in public interest and in good faith. Akbar refuted these suggestions also.

John suggested that the article and tweets of Ramani were meant to raise awareness and persuasiveness of the sexual harassment at the workplace adding that the  disclosures pertaining to him were made in public interest and in good faith. Akbar refuted these suggestions also.

Sexual harassment allegations made by foreign journalists

Earlier in the first phase of the cross-examination of Akbar on May 20, John brought up the sexual harassment allegations made by foreign journalist, Majlie De Puy Kamp which she revisited today, to which Akbar responded, “All I can remember is that since it stated to have occurred a long while back, it was not further pursued..”

“It is wrong to suggest that the above statement is false and that De Puy Kamp publically recounted of being sexually assaulted by me when she interned at Asian Age as an 18 year old.”  He also did not remember working with Ruth David who worked at Asian Age as a reporter between 1999-2000. Additionally, he declined to have read the article recounting several instances of sexual misconduct by him and said that if there are any such allegation made by David against him then he “forcibly denies” them.

Ramani had 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 in October 2018 which led Akbar to file a defamation case against her.

Also read: Court Summons Priya Ramani In MJ Akbar Defamation Case

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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