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, Mr Akbar is abroad with a trade delegation and has not made any comment over these allegations.
The first allegation on record back in Oct 2017
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
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.