Delhi Court acquits Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by MJ Akbar. If it feels like a personal win to you, then you are not alone. We have all waited with bated breath for this judgement and this watershed movement, that will hopefully discourage those with power from stifling women’s voices and their demand for justice. But wait, there’s more.
This Delhi court ruling makes it clear that “reputation” cannot be preserved by robbing someone of their dignity. “Sexual abuse takes away dignity and self confidence. Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of right to dignity, ”Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey said in his verdict. He also added that a woman right to put her grievance even after decades.
Speaking about the verdict, Ramani said, “I feel vindicated. My victory will encourage more women to speak up and make powerful men think twice before taking victims to court.” Encourage it will, as this is a landmark moment not just for women seeking legal recourse in cases of sexual harassment, but for us as a society. A society which uses “reputation” the crux of MJ Akbar’s defamation suit, as a tool to silence women and put a question mark on their intentions when they speak about sexual crimes publicly.
This is why so many women feel elated today. It is a milestone win for all of us because we have a sister who decimated that tool and to put forth the message that those in power cannot use the law and their army of lawyers to silence a woman. She will stand tall and speak her truth. She will not shut up because men and society cannot stop fussing over “reputation” and not her well-being and safety. She has the right to work with her head held high, to step out of her house without fear. And if this right is challenged, she will speak up.
What will this win change for us? Well, that is a question that will answer itself in years to come. However, how that answer is shaped, depends on us. Our society is still much kinder to men. Saying #MeToo is not enough to get you justice, as we have learned from the quiet return of accused men to workplaces without facing any legal or social actions for the allegations made against them. Powerful predators, who have been unmasked, still roam freely, bidding their time, angry and ashamed, not because they did something wrong, but because they got caught in the act. The accountability for their actions still lies with those who they preyed upon.
Unless this changes, we stand at risk to lose all that Priya Ramani and the brave and resilient women behind India’s #MeToo movement have achieved so far. To sustain this momentum, society needs to change its gaze towards predators and survivors. We owe that to Ramani, who stood tall amidst this harrowing ordeal for herself, for her sister, for her society.
The views expressed are the author’s own.