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.
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.
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
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.
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, & made life at work hell when i refused.,cudnt speak up due to various compulsions, but yes #MeTooIndia— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 6, 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
he made lewd comments, once when we we had a meeting with the entire features https://t.co/Na1HhVu4J3 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. 3/5— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 9, 2018
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.
OMG! He turned up at my friend's house one night for a coffee. As a single mother with a sleeping child she told him she could neither invite him in nor go out with him. From next day he made life hell for her at their workplace https://t.co/3XRj7oWK94— Sujata Anandan (@sujataanandan) October 8, 2018
So many of us have an MJ story. "Can I come over to your house with a bottle of rum?" he said. NO, was the answer.... Couldnt 'do' anything. Some dont get the meaning of No... they move on to the next, dont they https://t.co/eMnO6Y3PNX— Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) October 8, 2018
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.”
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