The second day of Former Union Minister MJ Akbar’s cross-examination in his defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani resumed on Monday morning at the Rouse Avenue Court. Senior Advocate Rebecca John represented Priya Ramani whereas Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra and Advocate Sandeep Kapur (Partner, Karanjawala & Co) appeared for MJ Akbar.
In response to the series of questions asked by Rebecca John on allegations of sexual harassment, MJ Akbar has said that he did not receive a phone call from Ramani and denied that he had asked her to visit him in his room at the Oberoi hotel. He had further denied opening the door for Ramani and having met her in any circumstance on that day.
Akbar had also denied having asked any personal questions to Ramani, including allegations of having asked her about her family, study abroad, her first job and of marriage. He has claimed their meetings were only professional in nature. In response to further questions posed to him on his alleged meeting with Ramani, Akbar reiterates that he had not met her on that day.
On being asked whether Ramani left unnerved by Akbar, he responded, “I did not meet her on that day, I do not know if she felt unnerved by my behaviour”. Luthra objected to the line of questioning and said, “it is about the accused, how can MJ Akbar answer it”.
On being asked whether Ramani had gone home from the hotel, Akbar replied that he didn’t know since he hadn’t met with her. Akbar also denied that he was tutored to give false answers.
“I am not sure if Priya Ramani was offered a job in New Delhi office of The Asian Age in 1994. It was 25 years ago”, said MJ Akbar on being asked if Ramani was offered a job. He couldn’t recall the details of her transfer request and also denied knowing that Ramani was a journalist for 20 years.
Despite Luthra’s objections Akbar was further asked whether he was aware of the various articles written about allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. Ramani’s counsel said that only a portion of Ramani’s Vogue article refers to Akbar. Akbar protested by pointing out that Ramani had herself confirmed that the entire piece was about him.
John further questions Akbar on other articles of Weinstein trying to draw in the point that Priya Ramani’s Vogue article was extracted from them, referring to other male bosses. Akbar replied that a “male boss” was used in the article for which John replied that it was a generic term.
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) October 8, 2018
Referring to the tweet where Ramani had shared the Vogue article, John said that she had said “he didn’t do anything” in a sarcastic manner. Akbar denied this and said that he counted this as an admission in his complaint.
John tries to clarify that Ramani meant that nothing physical happened in the hotel room. Akbar once again denies meeting her in the hotel room.
John later brings up allegations of misconduct raised up by other women, to which Akbar denied having read some of them and denied some other allegations that he been aware of. “Such questions cannot be asked. They can only come within the four corners of defence of criminal defamation”, Luthra objects.
To which John replied that cross-examination need not be confined to questions asked in Chief Examination, referring to Sec 138 of the Evidence Act.
Akbar was asked whether he knew Majlie de Puy Kamp, to which he replied the affirmative. John raised up the story carried by Huffington Post India on the harassment faced by Kamp, she asked, “Is it correct that you apologized to Kamp’s father when he confronted you about the sexual harassment incident through an email?”. She showed him the contents of the email.
“I cannot confirm the content of the email.. there was no question of sexual harassment. I recall that there might have been a mention of some misunderstanding which was accepted”, replied Akbar.
The case has been adjourned to 10 am on 6th July and the cross-examination would be completed in a day.
MJ Akbar had filed a defamation case after Priya Ramani had accused him of sexual harassment in the wake of the #Metoo movement which had gathered considerable attention last year, to which the journalist pleaded not guilty on April 10. Following the allegations, he was forced to resign from the Union Cabinet on 17 October 2018.
On May 4, a Delhi court had recorded Akbar’s statement regarding the defamation case against Priya Ramani. He was also partly cross-questioned for which his response to most of them was “I do not remember”. The court had also deferred the cross-examination till May 20.