New Delhi, Oct 17: Wilting under pressure from the Congress and women journalists resigned as Minister of State in Ministry of External Affairs on Wednesday after a series of sexual misconduct allegations.. In his resignation letter Akbar has said that he has decided to quit so as to fight the false allegations against me in court in "personal capacity" and not as a minister.
Tuesday, Oct 16A group of women journalists on Tuesday had written to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding the dismissal of Union Minister M.J. Akbar, who has been accused of sexual harassment by a dozen-odd women.The Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) also demanded that the Ministry of External Affairs, where Akbar is Minister of State, should ask him to step down from office pending an independent investigation."We are extremely concerned that he continues to be a Minister even as he pursues whatever legal action he plans."You will agree that this is highly unethical and improper and will cast a cloud over any investigation into his alleged misdeeds, besides undermining the independence, justice and fair play that any citizen can expect from such proceedings," NWMI said in its letters to the President and the Prime Minister on Monday.As for Akbar's action on Monday to sue Priya Ramani, the journalist who had first named him in the #MeToo campaign, for defamation the NWMI said that it is "a clear attempt to bully, intimidate and silence those bringing to light systemic abuse of women by men in powerful positions"."It is designed to push women back into silent compliance and will silence the voices of the many who have not yet spoken up," it said."We would like to point out that Section 499 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), which pertains to defamation, cites exceptions in case of 'imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published'."The NWMI said that all support should be extended by the government to women in their struggle for justice and that Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj should "take workplace harassment seriously and not encourage intimidatory tactics against women who have complained".Sunday, Oct 14Earlier, defying widespread calls for his ouster over multiple charges of sexual harassment, Union Minister M.J. Akbar on Sunday termed the allegations "wild and baseless" and questioning their timing and vowed to take legal action against the accusers.As the #MeToo movement gained momentum in the country, around a dozen women journalists accused Akbar of sexual harassment and molestation, leading to a growing chorus for his ouster as the Minister of State for External Affairs.On his arrival from an official trip in Nigeria, Akbar issued a statement rubbishing the charges and wondered if there was an agenda behind the allegations as they came ahead of next year's general elections."Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned (from abroad), my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action," he said hours after his return.While there have been speculations that he may resign upon his arrival, Akbar gave no indication of his stepping down nor was there a word from the government or the ruling BJP as to whether he would continue in the government."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," said the 67-year-old former Editor of Asian Age.Former Mint Lounge Editor Priya Ramani was the first to accuse Akbar. As days passed, more and more women journalists who had worked with him came out with their complaints.Among others to accuse Akbar include Force magazine Executive Editor Ghazala Wahab, US-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp and UK-based journalist Ruth David.Akbar in his statement gave a point by point rebuttal of the charges.Referring to charges by former colleague Ramani, Akbar said: "Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. 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.'"If I didn't do anything, where and what is the story? There's no story. But a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total, unsubstantiated hearsay; others confirm, on the record, that I didn't do anything," he said."Shutapa Paul states, 'the man never laid a hand on me'."'Shuma Raha says, I must clarify, however, that he didn't actually ‘do' anything'. One woman, Anju Bharti, went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim.""Another accusation was made repeatedly by Ghazala Wahab, in an effort to damage my reputation. She claimed that she had been molested in office, 21 years ago. This is 16 years before I entered public life, and when I was in media."The only office where I worked with Ghazala Wahab was that of The Asian Age. A part of the editorial team then worked out of a small hall. At the time concerned, I had a very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass. Others had tables and chairs two feet away."It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless."Pertinent to remember Ramani and Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; clearly establishes they had no apprehension and discomfort. Reason why they remained silent for decades is very apparent, as Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything," added Akbar.A founding editor of The Telegraph daily and Sunday magazine, Akbar joined politics in 1989 and became a Congress MP. He joined BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, he was inducted into the Modi government in July 2016.Monday, Oct 15Then on Monday Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against a woman journalist, Priya Ramani, who had accused him of sexual harassment, alleging that "scandalous allegations" have been made to bring down his image in the society.Seeking her prosecution under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code that provides for imprisonment for two or more years in case of defamation, the Minister of State for External Affairs filed the complaint in the Patiala House court complex.Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by several women journalists, including Ramani, who had worked with under him more than 15 years ago. He has denied the charges as "false, wild and baseless".Reacting to the defamation case, Ramani said she was "deeply disappointed" that the Minister sought to dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy and by filing the case he was seeking to "silence" the women complainants through intimidation and harassment."Needless to say, I am ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence," she said in a statement.Several journalist bodies also expressed "deep disappointment" at Akbar's threat of legal action and demanded he must step down for the sake of an impartial probe into the allegations against him."In the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it would only be appropriate that the Minister steps down from his post till such time as the inquiry is completed," the Press Club of India, Indian Women Press Corps, South Asian Women in Media and Press Association said in a joint statement.In his complaint, Akbar said that it was apparent that the false narrative against him was being circulated in a motivated manner and for the fulfilment of an agenda.Around a dozen women journalists have accused Akbar of sexual harassment and molestation, leading to a growing chorus for his ouster from the government.Countering the charges, the former Editor of Asian Age claimed that false and defamatory statements which were widely published in the media had caused irreparable loss to his reputation.He alleged that Ramani wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defamed him by making a completely false and frivolous statement which has harmed his goodwill and reputation within the political fraternity, media, friends, family, colleagues and society at large."That the scandalous allegations levelled by the accused against the complainant (Akbar) herein, by their 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, established after years of toil and hard work, but have also affected the personal reputation of the complainant in the community, friends, family and colleagues, thereby causing him irreparable loss and tremendous distress," said the complaint filed by advocate Sandeep Kapur.The advocate said that woman journalist had mentioned incidents which allegedly occurred 20 years ago and she had simultaneously admitted that Akbar had not done anything to her."It is pertinent to mention that the conduct of the accused person (Ramani), of not taking any action before any authority, qua the alleged incident against the complainant (Akbar) also clearly belies the sanctity of the article and allegations made by the accused person, which evidently goes on to prove that the said defamatory articles are only a figment of her imagination and are only intended to malign the reputation of the complainant," read the complaint."...while admitting that the complainant (Akbar) has never done anything to her, the accused has intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated, and salacious imputations to harm the reputation of the complainant."Akbar listed two senior women journalists -- The Sunday Guardian's Editor Joyeeta Basu and journalist Veenu Sandal -- and four others as witnesses to prove his defamation charges against Ramani.Advocate Kapur said that Akbar was a veteran journalist and had authored several renowned books. He had a long career in journalism and launched India's first weekly political news magazine, Sunday, in 1976, and two daily newspapers 'The Telegraph' and 'The Asian Age' in 1989 and 1994 respectively.In a related development, Ghazala Wahab, another woman journalist who has complained against Akbar, on Monday hit back saying "lies do not have legs" and they "do not go far".
Tuesday, Oct 9
The #MeToo movement that has caused a storm in the film industry and singed newsrooms reached the Modi government with former editor and Union minister M.J. Akbar being named for sexual harassment by two journalists in the social media.A day after journalist Priya Ramani levelled allegations against Akbar, who is a junior External Affairs Minister, another of his former colleague Prerna Singh Bindra came up with charges of sexual harassment. The Telegraph, of which Akbar was the founding editor, had carried a story on Tuesday based on tweets by Ramani and another account by an unnamed writer in Firstpost, a news portal. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday did not answer media queries about allegations concerning Akbar. As reporters persisted with their questions and asked if there will be a probe, she walked past them without giving an answer. Expressing concern over the instances of alleged sexual harassment, the Editors Guild of India has called upon the news media organisations to conduct unbiased probes into all such cases.The Guild said it unequivocally condemns all "predatory conduct" by such men. "It is worse when the perpetrators also happen to be enjoying senior or supervisory positions in the profession," it said in a statement adding that it was commitmted towards ensuring legal rights of either the victims or the accused are not violated. "A fair, just and safe working environment is essential if press freedom is to flourish," it said expressing solidarity with female journalists. Ramani had on Monday tweeted about a piece she had written for The Vogue magazine in 2017."I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn't "do" anything," she had said and even called Akbar "a predator." On Tuesday she tweeted "a small story from someone who worked" with him. "MJ Akbar never missed an opportunity," Ramani said. The story by an unnamed woman journalist did not name Akbar but referred to him as a boss of a new newspaper published simultaneously from Bombay, Delhi and London (The Asian Age).The journalist said she was made to wait in a hotel lobby for hours and when he came from his meetings at 9.30 pm, she was asked if she wanted to stay over. It also says that when she refused, he "graciously told me to take the office car and get dropped off home in distant suburbs." "But yes, I was definitely never a favourite post that incident," it added.Bindra had on Sunday made allegations against Akbar but did not name him. "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, and made life at work hell when I refused, couldn't speak up due to various compulsions, but yes #MeTooIndia," she had said.However, on Tuesday she named him and made a series of tweets. "It was MJ Akbar I do not say this lightly.. I know the consequences of false accusations and it has been now 17 yrs and I have no concrete proof. But I was young, just made features editor, super impressed with our brilliant editor, sensitive writer (read Riot after Riot), "But the great have feet of clay. I have narrated the story in my earlier tweets. I enjoyed our conversations-he was witty, intelligent, but this did not mean i was available. After I refused to go to the hotel at night- post putting paper to bed- things got nasty."He made lewd comments, once when we had a meeting with the entire features team. One of the girls told me later he had asked them to meet him in the hotel too. I was alone in the city, vulnerable, fighting battles on personal fronts. I kept quiet," she said. "Once, I recall going for a story-in Mumbai Mantralaya, and the officer tried to grab me: And I thought whom do I complain to: my editor is made of same stuff. And I walked away from AA. dug up dirt-on corruption-on the officer, but the next newspaper refused to publish it," she added. The journalist said she did keep in touch with Akbar of and on through the years but "stripped of all respect."BJP leaders spoke in different voices on the #MeToo campaign with women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi supporting it. Answering a question about allegations against a politician in the campaign, she said there should be an investigation. "Those who are in positions of power always use it, whether it is film, media or industry. Whenever women make such allegations, we should take them very seriously," she said. However, BJP MP Udit Raj questioned why women were coming out with their stories ten years after the alleged incidents and dubbed it as the "beginning of wrong practice". "It must also be considered that it can ruin the public image of accused person," the Bharatiya Janata Party (MP) from northwest Delhi said in a tweet. Later answering a query about Akbar, he repeated his remarks about the damage to a person's reputation if allegations turn out to be false.