Senior advocate Rebecca John is a firm supporter of the #MeToo campaign and someone who has readily come forward to offer legal help to women who have raised their voices against sexual harassment and creepy advances of men in power. She specialises in criminal law. She spoke to Bhasha Singh on the defamation case filed by editor-turned-politician MJ Akbar
Why do you think MJ Akbar has filed this defamation case against Priya Ramani?
I think you should ask him this question as to why he opted for this route. One thing is clear that he opted for intimidation. They want everyone who is raising her voice to become silent. The whole #MeToo movement is about speaking truth to power. And filing this case means “we will show you what power means”.
Actually filing for criminal defamation actually corroborates the facts these women have been stating. It is far exposed now.
Many people are saying that since the incidents are pretty old, they will be very difficult to prove in court.
It is a defamation case. So, the burden of proving the allegation lies on Akbar and his legal team. Priya Ramani has to defend her stand, she doesn’t have to prove anything. It is not the defendant who has to prove anything. So, we are not supposed to prove anything. And anyhow, time is no bar. It is a very lame logic given by those who want to defend the perpetrators.If you see the #MeToo movement across the world, it is the same. Women always delay the complaint. The history of sexual assault around the world tells us that women generally delay in reporting these cases. The reasons are very obvious: patriachy and its whole power structure.
But they are trying to shift the focus, on timeline and credibility of witnesses.
Legally, it doesn’t stand anywhere. Instant reporting does not make a witness more credible. And you see how many women have come out against Akbar. They showed courage to share the horrifying details. The most important part is when one woman dares to come out, others get the courage to speak out too. This spirit of fighting together is very important. There is no need for corroborative evidence in cases of sexual harassment or assault.Testimonies of woman will decide the final outcome in the court.
Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has asked the women complainants to come forward to facilitate an enquiry.
I think no body is going to trust the government after the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar. That route is almost closed. Once legal action has been taken, going for quasi-legal thing is not sensible. You don’t know who is going to head these enquires. The government has shown that it is not at all sensitive to women’s issues. At least in all these media houses, so many heads rolled. But the government, which should have shown more sensitivity, has utterly failed to deliver justice.
Filing a police case also is very tiring process.
Absolutely. It is. It takes a lot of your time and energy. But still, if some of these women want to file cases, they should