Former union minister M.J. Akbar’s criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani was a major marker in the #MeToo movement in India. Earlier this year, a Delhi court upheld dignity over reputation, while acquitting her. Taking a sensitive view of the issues concerning sexual harassment of women, the 90-page landmark judgment stated in no uncertain terms that a woman can’t be punished for reporting her experience and that she can share her grievances at a platform of her choice even after decades. Now, a global vitriolic backlash to the #MeToo movement—triggered by the highly-publicised Johnny Depp–Amber Heard trial—seems to have reinforced fears over double-victimisation of and retaliation against the survivors.
Women rights experts like Indira Jaising, a senior Supreme Court lawyer and the first woman additional solicitor general of India, feel Depp’s defamation suit against Heard exposes deep-rooted misogyny in society, the jury and the judiciary, despite the advances made by the #MeToo movement. “It is particularly disturbing coming from the US, the land of free speech. It represents a departure from the law of defamation in that country where actual malice must be proved before a person can be held guilty of defamation,” she tells Outlook. “Speaking up against domestic abuse is in the public interest and there was no case of malice made out.”