New Delhi: In the hearing underway on Monday in the defamation case filed by M.J. Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani, witnesses supporting the former Union minister’s case were examined at the court of the additional chief metropolitan magistrate.
Akbar has accused Ramani of defaming him by alleging he had sexually harassed several women.
In October 2018, she and at least 17 other women had accused Akbar of sexual harassment, and in one case, even rape. Despite the various accounts on public platforms, Akbar decided to sue only Ramani for criminal defamation terming the allegations “false, fabricated and deeply distressing”
In previous hearings, Akbar had been cross-examined by Ramani’s counsel Rebecca John.
According to Bar and Bench, Akbar’s two witnesses, present in court, were Veenu Sandal and Sunil Gujral.
Veenu Sandal began her deposition by stating she had over 25 years as a journalist, during which she also worked with the Asian Age around 1994-95. She agreed, in response to a question on whether she wrote on ghosts, witches, supernatural beings and communicating with the dead, “I don’t write about them frequently; I write about them always.”
She claimed that she held Akbar in “high esteem” and admired him as “an editor who transformed the face of Indian journalism” during her time with Asian Age.
She then said that when she heard about the tweet published by Priya Ramani on October 8, 2018, she was “shocked” and that “[Akbar’s] image in my eyes fell and his entire persona before my eyes was dented”.
Upon Akbar’s return to the country, she said, he told her that “there was no truth in the allegations made by Ms Priya Ramani” and also told her to “think for myself”. Sandal claimed that after due deliberation, she came to the conclusion that “there was not a thing remotely similar to the allegations”.
Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John then cross-examined Sandal.
Upon being asked if Sandal had ever met Ramani, Sandal responded in the negative. John then asked her if, during her tenure at the Asian Age, she ever interacted with journalists like Prerna Singh Bindra, Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Harender Baweja, Kadambari Wade.
Sandal acknowledged having interacted professionally with Ghazala Wahab.
Sandal also went on to claim that she did “not know whether Ms Wahab wrote in The Wire or not,” but was “made aware that she had written an article about Mr Akbar in which she had also mentioned my name”.
On October 12, Ghazala Wahab, who worked with Akbar in Asian Age, wrote a detailed first person account on The Wire of how Akbar sexually harassed her. Wahab’s account also alleges Veenu Sandal was one of Akbar’s supporters.
Sandal then told the court that she did not deem it necessary to confront Wahab as she knew that “there was no truth in them [allegations]”.
Sandal also said that she was unaware of the date when Akbar filed the complaint against Ramani. When asked to compare her pre-summoning statement with the current one for contractions, she claimed to have “not deliberately introduced new quotes to improve upon my earlier statement”.
She also claimed that it was incorrect to state that she had deliberately given evidence that not once did any colleague say or hint at any inappropriate behaviour by Akbar or that she had selectively and deliberately given evidence against Ramani.
She also denied having deposed in favour of Akbar because she had benefited from her association with him professionally.
Sandal also admitted to having written an article titled ‘Partnering with ghosts of the other world’ in the Sunday Guardian on October 13, 2018, in response to a query by John whether the article in question was written in the context of the #MeToo movement
“Among other things, this article was written in the context of the
#MeToo movement and other contentious issues,” said Sandal.
Sandal also said that it was “incorrect to suggest that I have falsely stated that in my association with the Asian Age, nobody ever narrated any inappropriate behaviour by Akbar”. She also denied being a “biased” and “tutored” witness.
Akbar has previously denied that Ramani’s disclosures in her tweet and article were true and made in good faith for public interest and for the public good.