A Step Forward
At long last, victims of sexual misconduct have something to cheer for. In a recent judgement, the Delhi Court has acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in a defamation case filed against her by former Union Minister M. J. Akbar. This is a landmark judgement and it will have far-reaching implications. The said judgement will definitely encourage many such victims to come forward now to name and shame the offenders without fear. It will also offer a fresh lease of life to the ‘Me Too’ movement in India. The movement started in the United States of America (US) in 2017, when 80 women alleged sexual misconduct against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. As a result, the movie mogul has now been sentenced to 23-years of imprisonment after two women proved their charges successfully. But after the initial euphoria, the movement appeared to be toothless in our country as every single allegation of sexual abuse has been met with defamation suits. Mr. Akbar is among those who wished to be cleared from such an allegation after being named by Priya Ramani in October, 2018. The former minister pleading innocence has alleged that Ms. Ramani had deliberately harmed his reputation. To which the Delhi Court has observed that a woman has the right to put forward her grievances before any platform of her choice at any time. Taking a sympathetic view to the victims, the court further remarked that time lapse should not be considered important as in many cases the victims hesitate to file charges against the offenders in fear of infamy. The victims prefer to suffer in silence, fearing retaliation by the offenders, the court remarked.
The verdict is in sync with Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which promises protection of life and personal liberty and Article 14 that offers equality before law. The judgement has rightly remarked that the ‘right to reply ion’ cannot be protected at the cost of the right to life and dignity of a woman. After this verdict, from now onwards no victim will be made to stand up in court as the accused, while the perpetrator will be treated as the victim. The judgement will encourage many women to make public their ordeal without worrying about the legal consequences, especially in cases involving influential offenders. Now, this is a potent legal weapon in the hands of women to protect their dignity. During the last few years, people in high places escaped punishment in sexual assault cases in absence of such a clear verdict. Thus it is time for women in India to raise awareness about this legal weapon and to encourage the victims to make public their charges without any delay. This is the only way through which the women can resist sexual advances by men. The verdict along with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, prohibition and Redressal) will make women adequately more powerful to deal with such situations. In all, the Delhi court verdict should be used by women as the stepping stone to create a conducive atmosphere in the country, so that women can live with dignity and equality.