MJ Akbar, Minister of State For External Affairs, stepped down from his post in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment made by several women against him during his days as editor of several publishers. In a brief statement, he said that he would “seek justice in a court of law” in a “personal capacity”. ” Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity.” Akbar said.
But what was the whole MJ Akbar controversy and who all made allegations of sexual harassment against him?
It all started on 8th October when 6 female journalists, including Priya Ramani broke their silence and accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment during his days as a journalist amidst the #MeToo movement. Each having her own story, the women described their ordeals in the tweets.
Sharing her Akbar story, Ramani said the former editor called her to his hotel room for an interview. She said it was more of a date, less of an interview.
In the 1994 incident, she recounts how MJ Akbar interviewed her in a luxury south Mumbai hotel, offered her a drink (which she refused), asked her to sit next to him on the bed and even sang her romantic Hindi songs after enquiring her musical preferences. She got the job but vouched to never be alone with him in a room.
The other 5 journalists were Shuma Raha, Prerna Singh Bindra, Kanika Gahlaut, Suparna Sharma, Harinder Baweja and Shutapa Paul.
— Shutapa Paul (@ShutapaPaul) October 9, 2018
OMG! He turned up at my friend's house one night for a coffee. As a single mother with a sleeping child she told him she could neither invite him in nor go out with him. From next day he made life hell for her at their workplace https://t.co/3XRj7oWK94
— Sujata Anandan (@sujataanandan) October 8, 2018
So many of us have an MJ story. "Can I come over to your house with a bottle of rum?" he said. NO, was the answer…. Couldnt 'do' anything. Some dont get the meaning of No… they move on to the next, dont they https://t.co/eMnO6Y3PNX
— Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) October 8, 2018
He was this brilliant,flamboyant #editor who dabbled in politics, who called me-my 1st job- to his hotel room to 'discuss work', after i put the edition to bed-read midnight, & made life at work hell when i refused.,cudnt speak up due to various compulsions, but yes #MeTooIndia
— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 6, 2018
On 10th October, Senior Journalist Saba Naqvi was another survivor that revealed advances Akbar made when she worked with him. She retweeted a tweet that mentioned that the editor in question was MJ Akbar.
“It was her first job as a trainee was in Calcutta in the late 80s. She would manage to run every time she saw “the editor” coming from a distance. Once, he landed up at her apartment, on the pretext that he had come to Russell Street for his article on a series on poverty in her region. He would summon her to his office on multiple occasions for meaningless conversations when he would speak to her chest than her face. Saba even says he managed to get her boyfriend transferred… “to get useless young men out of the way while he hunted the new belles (oops, trainees),” she wrote.
On 11th October, Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani, backing the victims of sexual harassment said that the women who have named him should get justice and it was for Akbar to speak on the issue.
Women don’t go to work to be harassed. They go to work to live their dreams&earn a respectable living. I am hopeful that all these ladies who are speaking out get the justice that they deserve: Union Minister Smriti Irani on #MeToo pic.twitter.com/3PbxHMt44w
— ANI (@ANI) October 11, 2018
When asked about if action was being taken against Akbar, Irani told ANI, “The gentleman concerned would be better positioned to speak on this issue.”
On 12th October, Journalist Ghazala Wahab recounted the harassment she faced in a piece for The Wire. In the #MeToo experience, Mustafa said she joined The Asian Age in Delhi in 1994, where MJ Akbar was the editor then. While she was aware of his flirtations with the young sub-editors and indecorous jokes and comments, she brushed it aside as office culture. However, little did she know that her ordeal was about to begin.
While all this was happening here in India, Akbar was out in Nigeria for official purpose.
On 14th October, he returned to India and was welcomed by journalists’ questions on arrival. He issued a statement later on and said that accusations without evidence have become a viral fever among some sections and that his lawyers will look into the “wild and baseless” allegations against him. The minister, however, did not indicate whether or not he would step down from his position.
“The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad,” the minister said according to news agency ANI. “Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action,” said the minister.
He further said, “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill. “Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing,” Akbar said in his statement.
Saying that Priya Ramani began the campaign a year ago with a magazine article, Akbar said, “She did not, however, name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a tweet; ‘Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything.”
The junior foreign minister said, “The allegation is a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe that has been built around something that never happened. Some are total, unsubstantiated hearsay; while others confirm, on the record, that I didn’t do anything.” (Source : Times of India)
On 15th October, MJ Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against journalist Priya Ramani. The criminal defamation case was filed in the Patiala House court in New Delhi, seeking relief under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The plea contended that irreparable damage has been done to Akbar’s reputation.
“The scandalous allegations levelled by the accused, by the very tone and tenor are ex-facie defamatory and have not only damaged the goodwill and reputation of the complainant in his social circles and on the political stage but affected his personal reputation in the community, friends, family,” it said.
The complaint listed instances of the alleged defamatory statements made by Ramani being circulated through print and electronic media, as well as Twitter.
Priya Ramani, in a statement shared on her Twitter account, said that she was ready to fight allegations of defamation against her.
“I am deeply disappointed that a union minister should dismiss allegations of several women as political conspiracy. By instituting a case of criminal defamation against me, Mr Akbar has made his stand clear: rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment”, she said. (Source : LiveMint)
On 16th October, A day after Union Minister M J Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against journalist Priya Ramani, one more woman alleged that he had assaulted her, and as many as 20 journalists who have worked under him went on record to ask the court to “consider testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of” Akbar and of others “who bore witness to this harassment.”
In their statement issued Tuesday, the women, three of whom head newsrooms today, said that Akbar has refused to “acknowledge” or “atone” for his actions that have been the cause of “immense pain and indeed harm to many many women over the years”.
As many as 20 women have accused MJ Akbar of sexually harassing them when he worked as a journalist and are ready to give testimony in favour of Priya Ramani.
The 20 women include Meenal Baghel who is Chief Editor, Mumbai Mirror; Manisha Pande; Tushita Patel; Kanika Gahlaut; Suparna Sharma, Resident Editor, The Asian Age, New Delhi; Ramola Talwar Badam; Kaniza Garari; Malavika Banerjee; A T Jayanthi, Editor, Deccan Chronicle; Hamida Parkar; Jonali Buragohain, Sanjari Chatterjee, Meenakshi Kumar, Sujata Dutta Sachdeva, Hoihnu Hauzel, Aisha Khan, Kushalrani Gulab, Kiran Manral, Christina Francis and Reshmi Chakraborty.
While one journalist said he ogled at her breasts, another one alleged Akbar pushed his tongue in her throat when she was 18. Another one wrote it was Akbar’s harassment which drove her to quit a job at the Asian Age.
And today, on 17th October, finally the Minister, MJ Akbar has resigned from his post in the light of sexual harassment cases allegations against him.
— ANI (@ANI) October 17, 2018
We’ll keep you updated with what happens next in this case!