Much black in the lentils?

16 Oct,2020


By Ranjona Banerji


The future #MeToo movement in India, to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace especially as far as the media is concerned, hinges substantially on the criminal defamation case filed by former editor and current BJP politician MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani. Many women and some men opened out about Akbar’s alleged sexual assaults and predatory behaviour on a large number of young women who worked with him in his newspaper career. However, Akbar picked only on Ramani and thus tried to intimidate all the other women who spoke up.

Did it work out that way? More and more women came forward and agreed to be witnesses on Ramani’s behalf. Akbar’s own witnesses had lost credibility long before they reached the court. BUT. Given the way the Modi government operates and the unholy hold which the BJP appears to have on all Indian democratic systems, after two years, we get a terrible twist at the end.

Instead of pronouncing judgment, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja cites a February 2018 circular says the case has to be heard by another court. Since discussing India’s justice system opens a can of worms and a host of contempt cases, read this:

The case moved to the other court, which will now decide on October 22. The fact that the media has been cut down to its knees is evident in the lack of strong outrage over this action by the government and/or judiciary. Most of the anger has been from women journalists and activists and not the larger journalistic community.


I say most do not speak but luckily some do. And as this opinion piece from The Wire shows, there is much that is black in the lentils. The continuing oppression of free speech, dissent, disagreement and threats to social and political status quos has no apparent end in India. The immense bravery of Ramani in speaking up and standing up for all women, the witnesses who supported her, the efforts of her lawyer Rebecca John who is doing this pro bono, run the threat of being discounted and diminished.

The “tolerance” which women have shown in the media and outside must surely run its course at some point?


Much more than the legal twists of the Akbar versus Ramani case it is the Tanishq advertisement which has roiled sections of India. In keeping with India’s current record of open and unashamed bigotry and prejudice, a jewellery ad which attempted to show social harmony via a inter-religious marriage had to be taken down. Specifically, the ad showed a Muslim family having a Hindu baby shower for their Hindu daughter-in-law. You can imagine how our Islamophobic Bhakts reacted to this!

The company, part of the venerable Tata Group, had to take the ad down after it was trolled for promoting “love jihad” and other toxic filth. Someone released the details of a senior Tanishq manager who happened to me a Muslim, so he had to change his phone number. A Tanishq showroom in Gujarat was visited by Sangh Parivar activists and forced to put up an apology on its doors.

As columnist Rupa Gulab pointed out, Ratan Tata should have just called his friends at the RSS HQ in Nagpur to get their mobs to back off but maybe his influence does not run so far.

But once more, India allowed hatred to thrive and flow as bullies will not allow any attempt at harmony to succeed.

Of course, everyone has noticed and India’s poisonous atmosphere gets international fame:

How proud Modi and his Bhakts must be!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal



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