So far people from the media, film, and entertainment were named in India’s own #MeToo movement. The movement gathered momentum with a new turn when at least six women journalists come openly to accuse Minister of State of External Affairs M J Akbar of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.
Since it broke on social media last week, Akbar happens to be the first political public figure to feature in the growing list of men allegedly accused of sexual harassment at work. Akbar, who is on the visit to Nigeria, did not respond to any messages sent to him seeking his comment.
On the other hand, the Congress on Wednesday said the BJP minister M J Akbar should immediately step down in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Congress also demanded an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against him.
Addressing a press conference, Congress leader Jaipal Reddy said Akbar must either offer a satisfactory explanation or resign forthwith. Meanwhile, the BJP did not respond to these allegations. Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj declined to comment on the issue.
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Earlier, at least six women journalists have come on record to accuse Akbar of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior when he worked as a newspaper editor.
Priya Ramani, who had worked with India Today, The Indian Express and Mint, was the first to come out openly writing that Akbar had called her to his hotel room. In a detail piece she wrote for Vogue India in October 2017, Ramani described an experience she had with an editor. She describes the interview as “more date, less interview” during which he offered her a drink and sang her “old Hindi songs”.
Discussing her experience of being invited by Akbar to a hotel room in Mumbai, freelance journalist Kanika Gahlaut, who worked with Akbar from 1995 to 1997 in various capacities at the Asian Age and other publications, said that she hadn’t read Ramani’s piece “but I don’t need to since I worked with him for three years”. Speaking to The Indian Express Gahlaut said: “One did hear, from the beginning, from before we joined that Akbar had a glad eye, and we were forewarned”. Akbar “did it to everyone,” she said.
Suparna Sharma, currently the Resident Editor of The Asian Age, Delhi, was part of the launch team of the newspaper where she worked from 1993 to 1996. She reported to Akbar. One day, she told The Indian Express, that she was making the page of the paper, Akbar was “standing behind” her. “He plucked my bra strap and said something which I don’t remember now. I screamed at him,” recalled Sharma.
In another case, author Shuma Raha told The Indian Express, that she was asked to come for an interview with him to the Taj Bengal in Kolkata in 1995, for a job at the Asian Age. “When I reached the lobby, he asked me to come upstairs and I didn’t think too much of it but there was a level of discomfort about sitting on the bed while giving an interview,” Raha said. She said that Akbar offered the job and said, “Why don’t you come over for a drink later?” Raha said that the comment unnerved her, and was a major reason she did not take up on the job offer.
Journalist Prerna Singh Bindra, in a Tweet on October 7, mentioned a similar invite to a hotel without naming Akbar at first. She said this “brilliant, flamboyant” editor called her to his hotel room to “discuss work” after she had “put the edition to bed — read midnight & made life at work hell when I refused.” Bindra said, “After I refused to go to the hotel at night…things got nasty”.
Another journalist came out against Akbar on Tuesday. Shutapa Paul, retweeting Ramani’s tweet naming Akbar, wrote, “#MeToo #MJAkbar 2010-11 while in @IndiaToday in Kolkata”.