9-ways Delhi Court Has Failed in M J Akbar Defamation Case

M J Akbar, Priya Ramani
No one defamed Akbar

Before I get into the topic, let me confirm that I have no special bad feeling for M J Akbar not getting justice in Delhi’s Patiala House Court and Priya Ramani not getting punished even after defaming a big personality like Akbar. Let me also assure you that if today Akbar has faced this in the court despite having highly paid lawyers and all advantages to himself, you and I stand no chance in any court in India to fight such defamation cases and you as a man and as a male boss should expect more of such cases in future. We men probably need to live with ‘sexual predator’ tags.

I do not have any feeling towards M J Akbar’s defeat in Delhi’s Patiala House Court because I know that when he was at the helms of affairs, he did nothing for men’s rights. If he did, he would have probably saved himself now. So, the male feminists getting a taste of their blood is good for themselves. This is the society they wanted to create, and this is what they should get.

Having said that, let me clarify how the Delhi court has failed Indian society and has set a really worse trend that will haunt Indian corporate for a long time unless this Priya Ramani judgment is reversed. And I will give explanation from the same judgment.

At the outset it is important to first describe Section 6 of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which is given in the judgment as – “Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction, are relevant, whether they occurred at the same time and place or at different times and places.”

This is important because Section 6 coupled with Section 9 of the same act formed the basis of the judgment.

So, even if the sexual harassment actually didn’t happen in the Priya Ramani case, and even if Akbar didn’t do that – it didn’t matter. The fact that there is a law to prevent such harassment in workplaces, the fact that there are some international treaties that India ratified and that talked about such harassments at the workplaces, the fact that some others spoke about such harassments happening to them either elsewhere or by Akbar himself, will be seen as connected with this case. Oops – quite a BIG statement and inference.

Now let’s examine how the court has failed us, from whatever information is given within the Priya Ramani defamation case judgement –

1. Failure to Interpret International Declarations

The court has mentioned many international declarations that India ratified to arrive at the conclusion. Let’s look at each declaration carefully –

UDHR, 1948

The MJ Akbar defamation judgment mentioned about “equality in dignity, rights and freedoms and equal protection against any discrimination”. So, when this treaty mentioned about equality in dignity etc. the court has failed to uphold equality and failed to protect dignity of the male employees.

ILO Convention, 1958

The Akbar defamation judgment mentions about CEACR committee recommendation that has emphasized that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. This convention urged the governments to prohibit sexual harassment in workplaces. It is important to note that even though there is no mention about any gender in this convention, it is construed vaguely and without any basis that the harassment needs to by a male boss and NOT by a female employee.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966

As mentioned in the Priya Ramani judgment, this declaration asked states to consider equality between women and men and to ensure a right to fair condition of work. Now this is also interpreted as if the male bosses violate the ‘fair condition of work’ by the judge himself and it is not mentioned anywhere in the covenant. The reason this needs to be extrapolated to ALL male employees of any organization is because tomorrow any woman can blame any male employee without getting punished for false claims.

CEDAW 1979, UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women 1993 & The Beijing Platform for Action

ALL spoke about specific elimination of violence against women in workplaces. These have called sexual harassment at workplaces a gender specific violence and considered only women as victims and males as the perpetrators.

ILO Convention 1989 (No. 169)

Mentions “adopt special measures to ensure that workers enjoy equal opportunities and equal treatment in employment”. Mention of this is kind of redundant because the complaint was not that Priya Ramani was treated differently in the organization compared with other employees.

Considering the above International treaties formed the basis of the Priya Ramani judgment, one point to note is that the Indian government has already acted upon this and a (Prevention of) Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act 2013 was already in place in 2018. Hence, now a special mention of all these international treaties are redundant and out of place. Considering the fact that the Priya Ramani case happened before the said act came in force also doesn’t allow her to defame Akbar in a public forum when she had no evidence other than some other people’s stories. So the observation made by the judge that her social media allegation in 2018 was for public good or to address a ‘Bigger’ issue of sexual harassment is not valid because the law was already in place in 2018 and the issue was recognized by the GOI in a gender biased way.

So, if anything was needed in 2018 was that awareness against such malicious story based social media campaigns.

2. Failure to Interpret Indian Constitution

The court though referred to different sections of Indian constitution that talk about equality and equal treatment before law etc. failed to prevent the dignity of male employees in general. Even though people in the legal profession may disagree with me because it has exception to equality under Article 15(3) of Indian Constitution. When there is any discussion regarding ‘equality’ in India, the conclusion ends with favouring women. That is where it becomes important to understand the exception of different other articles as provided in Indian constitution to understand and uphold the limits that should be imposed on the exceptions as well. This article explains the same and it is neglected by all courts in India –

article-15(3)-indian-constitution
Article 15(3) of Indian Constitution – Explained

Article 15(3) of Indian Constitution – When Exception is the Rule

2. Failure to Interpret Public Good

At this juncture it is important to discuss about Priya Ramani’s allegations made in good faith and for a greater public good to protect the interest of other women. This factor has played a major role in the judgment as despite the court had a considered view that the “contents are defamatory in nature”, it had found Priya Ramani not guilty of defamation. Because she was acting on a greater public good. The reason this is an invalid argument is that the law related to SHWB was already in place in 2018 and she didn’t need to publish a defamatory material online to do anything better.

In fact, to the contrary, her action was against the public good and against the interest of the nation because that encouraged women to level such baseless allegations against any male colleague of theirs even after years of any imaginary incident. This will open a pandoras box in Indian corporate and many male bosses will be maligned or face job loss for no reason.

Over and above the impending huge harm it will do to the male employees, it will also jeopardize the future and career prospects of female employees as now no male would like to mentor or take females in their teams. In short, Priya Ramani and the Patiala House Court has done permanent damage to the workforce that will only create more problems in the corporate rather than solving anything.

Read – How Industry Changed Rules After #MeToo

4. Failure to protect corporate India from attention grabbing women

Attention seeking nasty women have become a great threat in Indian corporate today. Not only bosses, they threaten any male employee of lodging sexual harassment complaint without any basis. I have personally experienced this in my career. Average performer women, attention-seekers, quarrelsome women are given raise and promoted in corporate ladder without any reason and they make other male employees suffer. It is not only they handle things poorly and inefficiently in the organizations but also show attitude against anyone showing them their fault.

This judgment will only bolster such women and harm working atmosphere in all companies. While average and below performer women will continue to level allegation against their male colleagues (not only bosses), deserving males will be deprived of their due recognition and as a result will become under performers. Some of them may leave their current organizations. And the loss will not only be to those male employees alone. It will go against their families, children and all other dependents.

It will harm the corporate India in a bigger way because under promotion of such hooliganism like #MeToo in corporate, companies may leave for countries with better and equitable legislation.

Courts finding that a woman can raise her complaint on any forum and even after many years of the actual incident will thus keep harming the corporate India and this judgment failed to protect their interest.

5. Failure to show social stigma attached to women

The Akbar defamation case judge opined that women can’t lodge sexual harassment at workplace complaints in time due to social stigma attached to women. This is complete contradictory to the present situation and is not applicable because in all such cases the identity of the accuser is always hidden. So, unless a woman wants to gain some mileage in a social media #MeToo complaint, there can’t be any worry about any social stigma attached to her.

This is more untrue in the present case of Priya Ramani because if social stigma was really a factor then how did she write about the incident in detail in public forum and in international media? So, a case of attention-seeking played in the mind of her and not any fear of social stigma.

On the contrary, social stigma is attached to the male employees who are accused in such complaints because their names will flash everywhere and they will have to run around to prove the negative (which is impossible).

6. Logical Argument Failure

The judgement says, most of the times women themselves do not understand sexual harassment. This is a blatant misinterpretation of the situation in hand. This is only the interpretation of the judge and not at all valid in this case. In her own cross-examination, Priya has mentioned that she informed this incident to other females as soon as it happened and some of them have offered her personal help.

So, this question of her not understanding sexual harassment does not arise. This statement is also not valid as a general statement because nowadays women in general have become more abusive, they volunteer to show their skin, wear short dresses even in workplaces as their empowerment, ignoring the fact that they are sexually inviting males and these need to be recognized in modern times. As the judge gave some unnecessary anecdote of Hindu Shashtras without really understanding those, here is what he needed to know before making such obscure statement –

Why ‘Indian Values’ Prohibit Women from Wearing Short Dresses

7. Failure to judge Implications of false complaints

The judgment says, “The time has come for our society to understand the sexual abuse and sexual harassment and its implication on victims”. A great folly by the judge in judging the time and what our society needed. This was said at a time when India has already recognized this as a crime and when already had a necessary legislation and proper procedure in place. Like he observed – “society should understand that an abusive person is just like another person”, he failed to recognize the fact that an abusive woman is also like another person (like Priya Ramani or any other woman) and such women may actually level false and baseless allegation. So, while a woman’s dignity needs to saved but that can’t be an excuse to raise random false complaints as the judgment just paved the way for more such baseless complaints even years after the incident.

8. Failure to interpret Hindu Shshtras

The Judge in the M J Akbar defamation case failed to interpret Hindu shshtras as well. While mentioning that Hindu Shashtras upheld respecting women, he mentioned that Laxman looked at the feet of Mata Sita and never looked beyond. He carefully omitted that same Laxman has punished Shurpanakha when she was wrong. So, while Hindu Shshtras and Hindu culture does talk about respecting women, it also gives provision to punish women for their fault. The judgment has failed to provide a roadmap to stop women from levelling false #MeToo allegation against men, rather it encouraged the same in the name of respecting women. The judge didn’t consider that respect is earned by an individual. Also, if a woman needs respect like mother Sita, she needs to behave like mother Sita. The fact that Mata Sita valued chastity and purity much more than any woman today, the fact that Sita didn’t want to raise false complaints against anyone and certainly didn’t blame all males even after being abducted by Ravana, tells in itself how ill-conceived and illogical is this argument in the judgment.

While Hindu Shshtras and Hindu culture does talk about respecting women, it also gives provision to punish women for their fault.

If the judge was so much respectful to Hindu culture then he should have first found fault with Priya Ramani for being with other males in offices and joining workforce because according to Hindu Shashtras women should only focus on household duties and serve their family and should not go out to work with other males. If that sounds too oppressive for the judge, he should not have pretended to respect Hindu Shashtras.

9. Failure to understand women’s workforce participation issue

The judgment mentions the Economic Survey Report, 2020-21 and discusses the dismal workforce participation by women in 2018-19 (26.5%). The judgement mentions from the survey that along with other factors, a safe working environment was needed for women to join workforce. However, he has selectively shown ignorance to the fact that women’s workforce participation is dwindling since 1991, ever since India’s divorce rate started shooting up.

Women’s participation in workforce declined in 2013 compared to in 1991. Did the judge want to mention that the workplaces have become more unsafe for women despite so many laws created?

In fact, if we look at the passing of Domestic Violence law and the trend of women’s workforce participation we know the reality –

Notice the steady and continuous decline in women’s workforce participation after passing of Domestic Violence Law

So, women are basically enjoying in their husbands’ alimony and enjoying all other benefits paid through their divorce rather than waiting for a safe workplace. In fact, in my own experience when I tried to get married, many working women said they wanted to settle and leave their jobs because they found jobs were much more stressful.

In fact, the judge has also shown ignorance to a study done a Harvard Business School among their MBA graduates of 20 years (sample size 20000) that found that even Harvard educated top notch and well trained women was not satisfied by working in corporate.

In this study done on 20,000 of the business school graduates they found male executives were more satisfied with their professional lives in four key areas (study conducted by Robin J Ely, Pamela Stone and Colleen Ammerman for Harvard Business School)–

Harvard Business Review Study on Women's satisfaction from workforce participation
Even world’s most highly trained women professionals are not satisfied in their professional life.

Conclusion

We have seen the impact of passing of different legislation on the society. Hindu families didn’t know about divorce until the divorce laws were passed. Similarly, the judgements like M J Akbar defamation case can permanently damage the fabric of Indian society. This judgement didn’t provide the much-needed protection to companies or their male employees. Additionally, this judgement misinterpreted several international treaties and even Hindu Shashtras to force upon some popular and personal opinion that will not even secure women’s future. Because if contributing and senior male officers’ and companies’ reputation are attacked through vague and baseless complaints like in #MeToo, then that will create a corporate anarchy that will cost women dearly. The need of the hour is to immediately revoke this judgment and set a timeframe of any such complaints and also to provide adequate punishment provisions for malicious complaints.

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