Watershed acquittal

A Delhi court’s order acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar, whom she had named and shamed in a tweet in October 2018, will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for countless victims of sexual misconduct, especially at the workplace. The court has rightly observed that the ‘right to reputation’ cannot be protected at the cost of the right to life and dignity of a woman, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, and the right to equality and equal protection before the law, enshrined in Article 14. Ironically, it was the victim, not the perpetrator, who was made to stand up in the court as an accused in this high-profile case.

The verdict is expected to embolden many other women to come forward and identify predators who misuse their positions of power to leave them scared and scarred for life. It has given fresh impetus to the #MeToo movement, which seemed to be losing momentum of late. The allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, levelled by no less than 80 women, had unleashed the worldwide #MeToo storm in October 2017. In February-March last year, Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexually assaulting two women.

The Delhi court’s observation that a woman has the right to put forward her grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades is also of great import. It’s the fear of infamy, besides retaliation from the influential offender, that forces many victims to keep suffering in silence for years. Priya’s acquittal, however, is only half the battle won. The victory will be conclusive only when all the Harvey Weinsteins get their comeuppance. For that to happen, we have to start with creating an enabling environment for women to speak about their ordeal. Also, there is a need to raise awareness about the legal weapon at their disposal — the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Implementation of the law in letter and spirit can not only curb miscarriage of justice but also act as a strong deterrent.

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