Truth is my only defence: Priya Ramani

Bengaluru: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win: The Mahatma's words have scarcely rung more true than they do now, as women speaking out against sexual harassment find that the fight is just beginning.

Despite the nationwide call for his resignation, MJ Akbar, who has received nearly a dozen allegations, responded by hiring a battery of 97 lawyers to file a defamation case against Priya Ramani, the first journalist to accuse him of sexual harassment. He also went on to attack claims made by the nine women who spoke out against him, reducing the #MeToo campaign to a 'political conspiracy'.  If it is an intimidation ploy, it hasn’t worked, for women journalists across the country have moved in support of Ramani. Lists of lawyers are being made and crowd-funding initiatives have sprung up on social media to help crowd-fund the legal expenses.

Ramani responded with a statement of her own on Monday evening, on her Twitter account. "These testimonies have emerged as a consequence of a slow but increasing empowerment of women over the years and a #MeToo movement unfolding across social media in India." The decision to 'out' a journalist like MJ Akbar, writes Ramani, has been done at "great risk to their personal and professional lives." The victims have already dealt with trauma and now with the stigma of speaking out. "We must reflect on how to improve the workplace for future generations of men and women." She concludes her letter with the remark: "I am ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence."

The Network for Women in Media India, for instance, has swung into action too, “It’s one thing to name and shame but it’s time to look at redressal methods as well,” says independent journalist and Radio Anchor Vasanthi Hariprakash, a long-time member of the association. ‘Mr Akbar has initiated legal action against Ms Ramani. We are extremely concerned that he continues to be a minister in the Union council of ministers even as he pursues whatever legal course of action he plans’ the statement reads. “We’re hoping that he will drop the lawsuit,” says Vasanthi. The Network has also put together a survey that seeks to understand how women feel in the workplace. “The situation is legally complex, too, because of the inordinate delay in the complaint. Socially, however, #MeToo has been hugely catharctic.’

Renowned journalist Nupur Basu, who is the executive producer of Velvet Revolution, an award-winning documentary on women journalists, can hardly believe the impunity of the predators. "It's a theatre of the absurd, to watch predatory actors and editors who have violated their women colleagues, in what should have been safe spaces, with such impunity. Now, they're turning on them with discredited criminal defamation cases to intimidate them!"

Will the usual slew of intimidation tactics scare women into silence? It doesn't look that way "Of course we are with her," says journalist and poet Pratibha Nandakumar. "Do these men think they can win a defamation case? Fat chance. This campaign is a symbol that we will hit back. This is just the tip of the iceberg."

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