Why Priya Ramani’s Acquittal is Women’s Day in India

Why Priya Ramani’s Acquittal is Women’s Day in India

A woman cannot be punished for raising her voice, rules a Delhi court. And why this matters to every platform that believes in equality, inclusivity and pro-rights debate

The right to complain, to protest, to raise a voice also demand the nerve, and an unflinching will to stay with the truth. It needs determined self-will just as it needs familial, legal, and community support, the trust of friends and fraternity, the legwork of lawyers, late night messaging buddies, exit routes from stress and a ‘damn you-I will not allow you-to take away my self-respect-even if you use your power to drag me to the witness box’ attitude.

Journalist Priya Ramani—who was acquitted on February 17 by a Delhi court in a criminal defamation case filed by former union minister and editor turned politician—had all of these. The Delhi court’s verdict includes sane and strong words. “Even a man of social status can be a harasser”. “A woman has the right to complain of sexual harassment even after decades” and “The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of a woman.”


Photo: Instagram//satishacharya

A celebratory illustration by editorial cartoonist Satish Acharya.

Importantly, the trial that began two years back—unfair and unwarranted for someone standing up against sexual harassment in the workspace that is recognised as a punishable offence in the Indian Penal Code—did not remain about “defamation” and MJ Akbar’s supposedly soiled reputation.

It stretched the attention and focus back to the core issue. That workplaces cannot be numb to crimes against women (or any gender), sexual harassment included, however, subtle, slanted, indirect or perpetuated by the powerful. And, as Ramani said in her statement after the verdict, “This case was not about me, it was about all the women who spoke up, about sexual harassment at the workplace as part of the #MeToo movement.”

If you are reading this piece, you may remember that Ramani had written an article in Vogue India in 2017 on sexual harassment, as a broader piece following the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein around the #MeToo movement in the West. She had not mentioned the name of MJ Akbar, her former editor at The Asian Age in that article but had done so in a later tweet specifically recalling an incident in a hotel. The storm that the tweet raised powered a number of other women, some of Ramani’s former colleagues and others working under Akbar to publicly share their own experiences with the editor’s predatory ways. Among the accounts was that of Ghazala Wahab, now the editor of Force magazine who spoke of her own disillusioning experience with Akbar. Over 20 women eventually spoke about Akbar’s sexual misconduct.


MJ Akbar.

He filed a case of criminal defamation against Ramani though in 2018 after resigning as Union Minister in the BJP government and the trial began in January 2019. Unbelievably, the case turned the victim into the accused. Senior advocate Rebecca John who ably represented Ramani through these tumultuous two years and more said yesterday that it was among the most important victories of her legal career.

As Twitter, newspapers, digital platforms and television echoed messages of vindication on part of women fighting similar situations, congratulations for Ramani surged from a cross section of Indians, lawyers, activists, celebrities. Yet another instance that tells us why more and more Indian women (and men) value the choice to protest and reclaim rights snatched from them. This is what Women’s Day means for us. For all those who hold their dignity and rights above all.

For a pro-choice magazine like ours that believes in and reports passionately about equal gender rights, body positivity, the right to display, dress, undress or decorate the body without fear of judgement or censure, applauding a verdict such as this is crucial and significant.

Fashion, once perceived as synonymous of “western” influences by the large and unrelenting moral police in India, would often be accused as a debasing influence on society. Especially on women. Supposedly, women who wore short or revealing dresses (“fashionable”) used them as tools of seduction. Our clothes, we were reminded, made us guilty of the crimes committed against us.

So today it is important to underline fashion as a space that holds up gender equality, inclusivity and body positivity perhaps more than many other industries. Fashion media’s headlines reflect the cultural skein of the country. Our words mirror the zeitgeist as sharply as any looking glass.


A trial and judgement like this is also reason to reflect on the times we may have witnessed our colleagues, friends and acquaintances being harassed by bosses or those in power but kept quiet to save our jobs or ostensibly walk away from “stress”. This verdict may also remind us (lest we forget even for a day), that the right of life and dignity is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in Article 21 and the right of equality before law is guaranteed under Article 14. If you have experienced a crime or a violation of your dignity, stand up and speak. It is always the right time.

With this, I also want to urge fashion designers to consider a creative and fiery portrayal of the #MeToo movement through a fashion film, a ramp show or a photo campaign. It is a story of victory. A story of power where it really lies.

While you are at it, you might want to fashion a slogan T-shirt that doffs the hat to Priya Ramani.

Disclaimer: In 1995, I worked under MJ Akbar, then the editor-in-chief of The Asian Age. Priya Ramani was my editor at Mint Lounge until 2014 where I worked from 2012 to 2017 as Style Editor. 

Banner: A celebratory image reposted from Priya Ramani’s Facebook account.