It has been a tendency to silence women, one way or another, if and when they start to speak out against a course of action that looks to break the norm of patriarchy, gender notions and general outlook of the society. We’ve witnessed overtime how perpetrators, even after proven guilty, have used defamation suits to silence women. What’s changed now is that women are no longer afraid, shamed or doubtful. They can no longer be silenced, come what may. The last two weeks saw several women sharing their own #MeToo stories and calling out men for alleged sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement has now advanced to a legal stage where MJ Akbar, who has been allegedly accused by 14 women, has resorted to the court and filed a SLAPP lawsuit citing defamation against one of the women.

SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence people. This intends to burden the other party with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Threats of defamation suits have long been used particularly in cases of sexual harassment.

Here, let’s take a look at some cases where SLAPP suits have been used to silence women over the years.

MJ Akbar’s Defamation Case

Journalist Priya Ramani, a few weeks ago, exposed the alleged misconduct of MJ Akbar. This led to 13 other women sharing their harrowing experiences of sexual harassment with the journalist-turned-junior minister. MJ Akbar has now filed a defamation case against Ramani. Akbar, who recently returned to India after a foreign trip, called the #MeToo movement a political agenda.

  • In his petition against Ramani, he accused her of “wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously” defaming him. He has also sought her prosecution under the penal provision of defamation.
  • Apart from Ramani, other women who have accused Akbar include Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul. About the defamation case, Ramani told Telegraph, “The truth is the best defence in any defamation case.”
  • Ramani had written about her account of sexual harassment in Vogue magazine last year but she had not named Akbar in her story. After the #MeToo campaign created a storm in the country, she named him in a tweet. Akbar’s suit, with an army of 97 lawyers, against one individual goes on to prove that winning the case is not the agenda here but is a way to drag the women to court and intimidate them until they withdraw.
  • Reportedly, the court has fixed 31 October as the date to hear the matter further and for submission of due evidence. MJ Akbar will have to appear in person to record pre-summoning evidence. Recently, Akbar offered his resignation as Minister of State for External Affairs.
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