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'Offered Me Alcohol, Asked Inappropriate Questions': Priya Ramani Recounts 'Interview' with MJ Akbar

Ramani in her testimony said that following the wave of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, an editor at 'Vogue' magazine had asked her to write about her experiences with such male bosses. Ramani said she had written in that article her experiences with Akbar without naming him.

Suhas Munshi | News18.com

Updated:September 7, 2019, 10:47 PM IST
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'Offered Me Alcohol, Asked Inappropriate Questions': Priya Ramani Recounts 'Interview' with MJ Akbar
File photo of MJ Akbar.
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New Delhi: Deposing as a witness in her defence in the criminal defamation complaint filed by Union minister MJ Akbar against her, Priya Ramani on Saturday recounted her encounter with the BJP leader and how he allegedly, on the pretext of an interview, “unnerved” her and made her “extremely uncomfortable”.

In the hearing at Delhi's Rouse Avenue court, Ramani recorded her statement about the events of a night 20 years ago when Akbar called her to his hotel room for a job interview. She alleged that Akbar was drunk, got very close to her, sang old Hindi songs sitting next to her, and offered her alcohol, all of which made her fear for her physical safety.

"Mr Akbar asked me to come to his room. I was silent, hesitant. Mr Akbar reiterated that I come to his room. This was not what I expected. I thought the interview will be in a coffee shop or lobby. But I was 23 [years old]. I did not have the confidence to say no...I didn’t feel like I could dictate the terms of the interview. I was uncomfortable when I went up. I rang his room bell," Ramani said.

The journalist said she fell ill at ease being in such an intimate space with Akbar for what essentially was supposed to be a job interview.

“I was acutely aware that I was alone in this room. He asked me why I’d gone to the US to study journalism. I replied that it was my dream to be a journalist. He asked many personal questions. He wanted to know if I was married. I said no. He wanted to know if I had a boyfriend. I replied no. He asked me many questions about my family. I told him they were keen that I have an arranged match," Ramani said.

Akbar's alleged actions after this made her really uncomfortable, Ramani said.

"He offered me alcohol from the minibar. I refused. He got up and made himself a drink. I think it was vodka. He asked me about my music preferences... he started singing old movie songs for me. I felt extremely uncomfortable at all these inappropriate, personal questions. He didn’t discuss my writing skills, my knowledge of current affairs or any other journalism related question. Then he moved to the small two-seater sofa next to the bed and gestured to me to come sit in the dining space next to him. I was already feeling unnerved by his inappropriate behaviour. Now I was concerned for my physical safety. I knew I had to leave the room immediately. I got up and said I had to leave. And when I was leaving he said his office would follow up about the job. I caught a taxi home," she said.

Ramani then recalled calling her friend in Mumbai and sharing her experience.

“She was shocked to hear about Mr Akbar’s behaviour. I told her I couldn’t tell my parents. Because they would ask me to refuse the offer and I would have to give up my dream of being a journalist. We discussed whether I should even accept the offer with such a man at the helm of this organisation. To that limited experience and the enthusiasm of youth we reasoned and it was a new newspaper there would be many employees and there editor would be a busy man who wouldn’t have time for a young journalist," she said.

Ramani added she swore to herself that she would never be in a room alone with Akbar.

"I was offered a job in the Delhi office of ‘Asian Age’ as a correspondent and I began working in January 1994. I asked the news editor for a transfer. I was not able to find a good accommodation and I thought I could save on rent by living with my parents. The transfer was accepted immediately. I moved to Bombay and within a fortnight of joining ‘Asian Age’, I was working in the Bombay office," she said.

Ramani in her testimony said that following the wave of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, an editor at 'Vogue' magazine had asked her to write about her experiences with such male bosses. Ramani said she had written in that article her experiences with Akbar without naming him.

“The article ranged from calling women to a hotel room and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and rape,” she continued. “While researching the article, I couldn't help but remember my personal story of my first male boss.”

But after the #MeToo movement picked up steam on social media, many women levelled similar charges against Akbar. “Seeing all these women, I felt compelled to speak up about my experience with Mr MJ Akbar in 1993 and so I removed the anonymity that I had given Mr Akbar in my ‘Vogue’ article and named him as the editor who had sexually harassed me," Ramani said.

Akbar had previously termed the accusations “false, fabricated and deeply distressing” and said that he would take appropriate legal action against them. The proceedings were adjourned for the day and the matter will be next taken up on September 9.

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