New Delhi: Former Union Minister M.J. Akbar on Monday denied meeting journalist Priya Ramani for a job interview at The Oberoi hotel in Mumbai in December 1993 and asking her personal, rather than professional questions.
Akbar said: “Since there was no meeting, therefore it is wrong to suggest that I did not ask Priya Ramani about her writing skills, her knowledge of current affairs, or her ability to enter the world of journalism.”
The court was hearing a defamation case filed by Akbar against Ramani.
“Further, since I did not meet her on that day, I do not know whether she felt unnerved by my behaviour,” Akbar said during his cross-examination in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal.
The hearing, which lasted for three hours, saw a heated exchange of arguments between Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra and Ramani’s Counsel Rebecca John, as Luthra objected to many questions asked by John.
Advocate John questioned Akbar about the job interview, which took place when Akbar was 42 years old and Ramani, 23.
Akbar said: “It is wrong to suggest that the conversation between Ramani and me was more personal than professional at my insistence. It is also wrong to suggest that I asked her about her family and why she went abroad to study.”
“It is further wrong to suggest that I asked her whether she was married. It is further wrong to suggest that she told me that this job was important to her as it was her first job,” he added.
The former minister also denied offering alcoholic drinks to Ramani from the mini-bar in the room, and then singing old Hindi songs and asking whether she liked music.
He also denied that he was deposing falsely or was tutored to give such answers to the questions put by Ramani.
He said he was not sure whether Ramani was offered a job at the Delhi office of The Asian Age newspaper in January 1994 or that she was transferred to its Bombay office after 10 days.
However, Akbar agreed that he was aware that in 2017, numerous women, including actresses, models and others belonging to the entertainment industry in America made public allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer and co-founder of the Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein.
Ramani was the first in a long list of female journalists to accuse Akbar, a journalist-turned-politician, of sexual harassment while sharing a Vogue article on Weinstein sexual harassment.
“It is wrong to suggest that in Priya Ramani’s tweet ‘Never named him because he didn’t do anything’, the words were used in a sarcastic sense,” said Akbar, adding that the tweets had made allegations against him, which are false.
As Akbar’s examination remained incomplete, the court posted the case for further hearing on July 6.