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Minister MJ Akbar Accused of Sexual Harassment in 'MeToo', Senior Sushma Swaraj Ducks Questions

Several women journalists have Akbar called them to his hotel rooms on the pretext of work and harassed them. He has not yet responded to the allegations.


Updated:October 9, 2018, 7:30 PM IST
New Delhi: As the ‘Me Too’ movement gathers momentum in the country, allegations of sexual harassment have surfaced against union minister and former journalist MJ Akbar.

The minister of state for external affairs has been accused of sexual harassment by at least four women. He was first called out by journalist Priya Ramani, who had last year written about his alleged inappropriate behaviour for a magazine without taking his name. She has now confirmed in a tweet that the allegation was against Akbar.

Akbar, who has been the editor of prominent newspapers like The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian, is a member of the Rajya Sabha from the BJP.

The accusation against him comes amid a series of similar sexual misconduct allegations on social media against men in journalism, standup comedy circuit and the entertainment industry.

In her article, Ramani had said “Akbar is an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer.” “You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab and assault. Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay,” her article reads.

Detailing how he made her uncomfortable, she said he had called her for a job interview to his “plush south Mumbai hotel” when she was 23 and he was 43.

Akbar did not meet Ramani in the hotel lobby and insisted that she meet him in his room. There, he offered her a drink. Although she refused, he drank vodka, sang old songs to her and asked her to sit close to him, she alleged.

MJ Akbar has not yet responded. He is currently in Nigeria.

Soon after Ramani’s account, more women journalists came forward with their stories.

A woman journalist named Shuma Raha said Akbar called her to his hotel room for an interview for Asian Age in Kolkata's Taj Bengal in 1995. She said that he didn't "do" anything, but “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". She said she declined the job offer.

Another journalist, Prerna Singh Bindra, said Akbar also called her to his hotel room to 'discuss work' after she had fired the edition at midnight. She alleged that he “made life at work hell” for her when she refused.

Several others have also replied on the Twitter thread expressing a lack of surprise at the number of times such incidents have been mentioned accusing Akbar.

The ministry of external affairs has not yet issued a statement on the allegations. When journalists approached minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj to ask whether an internal probe to examine the allegations will be set up, she did not respond and walked away.

At a regular party briefing, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra was also asked a volley of questions on the issue but he declined to respond. He said his mandate was to speak on the specific issue of the Congress role in allegedly fomenting violence against migrants in Gujarat.

Reacting to the controversy, Congress leader Manish Tewari said, “It’s an extremely serious matter. The minister concerned needs to speak up. The matter must be investigated. Silence cannot be an answer. We would like to hear from both the minister and the Prime Minister on this issue.”

| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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