"False, Fabricated, Spiced Up By Innuendo & Malice": MJ Akbar On #MeToo Allegations Against Him
As the #MeToo movement is gaining the much-needed momentum in India, several big-wigs from the field of media are already facing the music. Now, the movement has reached the Central government as well, with at least six women making allegations of sexual harassment against veteran journalist and Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar.
Reportedly, on Sunday, October 14, upon his arrival from Nigeria, MJ Akbar released a statement and said he will take legal action against the accusers. Amid increasing calls for his resignation, he refrained from talking about stepping down from office.
— M.J. Akbar (@mjakbar) October 14, 2018
Calling the allegations against him ”false and fabricated”, he said that “Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections.”
Reportedly, the women who have come forward and accused MJ Akbar include Priya Ramani, Shuma Raha, Malini Bhupta, Shutapa Paul, Ghazala Wahab, Prerna Singh Bindra, Anju Bharti, Kanika Gahlout, Ruth David, Majlie de Puy Kamp and Kadambari M Wade.
In his statement, Mr Akbar referred to the accusation made by Priya Ramani and said, “If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There is no story.” He further mentioned statements made by Shutapa Paul and Shuma Raha where they have stated “The man never laid a hand on me” and “I must clarify, however, that he didn’t actually ‘do’ anything,” respectively.
He added, “It is pertinent to remember that both Ms Ramani and Ms Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; this clearly establishes that they had no apprehension and discomfort.” Moreover, he alleged that these accusations could be an agenda as they have surfaced a few months before the 2019 elections.
The Central government has also come under the scanner for their silence on MJ Akbar. Several opposition parties have called for Akbar’s resignation while referring to PM Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign. According to sources, the government has “nothing to do with the accusations” against MJ Akbar, and his stepping down may “set a bad precedent,” as reported by NDTV.
According to a report by The Indian Express, five of the women journalists who came forward, have said that they stand by their statements. Journalist Majlie de Puy said, “I am not a citizen, I cannot vote. I do not have a political agenda. Plus, I have a paper trail. My father wrote an email to Akbar about the incident to which he responded. I have evidence. I am disappointed but not surprised by his statement. I am, however, very comfortable with my story.”
While Ms Ramani said, “Akbar has decided to brazen it out. There is no conspiracy against Akbar, none of us — unlike him — have any political ambitions. We are speaking up at great cost to our personal and professional lives.”
In October 2017, senior journalist Priya Ramani wrote an open letter to “Dear Male Boss” which was published in the Vogue magazine. On October 8, 2018, she tweeted, “I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator-maybe they’ll share.”
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) October 8, 2018
Soon, other women journalists came forward.
In this case, #MeToo. Year: 1995, Place Taj Bengal, Kolkata. After that encounter, I declined the job offer.
— Shuma Raha (@ShumaRaha) October 8, 2018
I must clarify, however, that he didn't actually "do" anything. But the whole experience of an interview sitting on a bed in a hotel room followed by an invitation to come over for a drink that evening, was rattling and deeply uncomfortable.
— Shuma Raha (@ShumaRaha) October 8, 2018
— A (@Apoorvasripathi) October 8, 2018
— Shutapa Paul (@ShutapaPaul) October 9, 2018
@It was #MJAkbar I do not say this lightly..i know the consequences of false accusations &it has been now 17 yrs &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), 1/4
— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 9, 2018
No. He is being targetted becoz he is MJ Akbar, sexual predator superior. Other men named have Already resigned from their jobs, been suspended or apologis3d. MJ was open secret among women journalists for 30 years or more https://t.co/YnfdQez3iw
— Sujata Anandan (@sujataanandan) October 9, 2018
I extended my hand to him in gratitude, he shoved his 55-yr-old tongue down my 18-yr-old throat. https://t.co/WLTyMndJYd
— Majlie de Puy Kamp (@MajliedePuyKamp) October 12, 2018
All these accounts paint a picture of a man, who is brilliant, erudite, the venerated editor who used his position and charm to prey on young, talented and ambitious women.
According to a report by The Indian Express, Suparna Sharma, Resident Editor of The Asian Age, said “He pursued almost all women in the same way – meetings in hotels, dangling plum assignments at them, sending them out of town and then arranging to meet them in a hotel, or insisting that they take a car ride with him. He mostly preyed on young women who lived alone, loved their jobs and were bright and ambitious.”
As he is now part of the External Affairs ministry, questions were directed at the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj regarding the allegation against MJ Akbar. Swaraj chose not to answer the question and walked away, which can be seen in the video below. Reportedly, the ministry is going with a stance that these allegations are from a time before he became a minister.
To my pointed question on if an internal probe will happen on #SexualHarassment allegations against @mjakbar , EAM @SushmaSwaraj refuses to comment. Still waiting for a ministry statement @thetribunechd @MEAIndia #MeToo pic.twitter.com/ZHZ3EJhCPl
— Smita Sharma (@Smita_Sharma) October 9, 2018
Smita Sharma who asked the pointed question is a Journalist-Deputy Editor at The Tribune.
Thank you for coming out and naming him, @priyaramani, @prernabindra, @ShumaRaha and all the others. Akbar was the elephant in the #MeToo room. Too big to touch, even though he'd 'touched' so many women. @SushmaSwaraj needs to act. https://t.co/tWMjdMBwnm
— Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto) October 9, 2018
Who is MJ Akbar?
Akbar is widely hailed among the “typewriter guerillas” of the 1970s-80s and celebrated as a star editor/journalist. The Founding Editor at The Telegraph, Akbar has been at the helm of The Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian as well.
He is a renowned author of several non-fiction books. Akbar’s first stint with politics was in 1989 when he won a Lok Sabha seat from Kishanganj, Bihar on a Congress ticket. In 2014, he joined BJP and became the national spokesperson during the 2014 elections. In July 2015, he became a Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand. In 2016, he was appointed as the Minister of State for External Affairs. He is married with two children.
The Logical Indian Take
There are people who are trying to digress from the topic by saying he is being targeted because he is a part of BJP or blaming the biased ‘media trial’. Yes, he is innocent untill proven guilty but now there are multiple accounts given by senior women journalists who have courageously come forward after suffering for years. This calls for a fair inquiry, an unbiased probe, a chance for these women to give their formal accounts, a chance which has been denied to them till now.