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created Tuesday February 23, 06:07 by bansod typing



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A Delhi court's recent verdict acquitting journalist Priya Ramani of the charge of criminal defamation against former Union minister M J Akbar breathes fresh life into the MeToo movement's attempt to bring a reckoning to sexual harassers in the workplace. Ramani was accused of defaming Akbar, himself a senior journalist, in 2018 when, during the second wave of Me Too in India, she revealed her own experience from 1993 of the then senior editor's inappropriate conduct. Ramani was but one of several women who alleged misconduct, yet it was her Akbar chose to sue for criminal defamation. Her defence was the truth articulated for the good of the public. Accepting her contentions, the court made four significant points. First, the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of a woman as guaranteed by the Constitution. Second, a woman has a right to put her grievances regarding sexual harassment at any platform, even after decades. Third, women may not speak up at the time of the incident of harassment either for want of a redressal mechanism or due to fear of stigma. Fourth, an abusive person can be like anyone else and even be well-respected in society. In a 2018 editorial, this newspaper argued that we must ensure that due process and believing survivors as principles are in alignment rather than in opposition to one another. Indeed, while Me Too can justly be seen as an indictment of due process, we must use what we have learnt from it to refashion a due process that is responsive to the experiences of survivors while being fair to the accused. The costs of failing to do so are clear. Priya Ramani's victory was hard won, not in the least due to her access to resources and a support system most survivors cannot dream to access. The cost for most survivors is to live with the trauma, with many even exiting the workplace, setting aside aspirations and losing financial independence. As the verdict points out, the latest Economic Survey shows women's participation in the workforce is almost a third of that of men. As judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey argues, all that is needed for women to excel is freedom and equality. Surely that is not too much to ask.

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