It started with Asian Age journalist, Priya Ramani accusing Union Minister MJ Akbar of sexual harassment and misconduct during his stint with the News Organisation.
Taking courage from Ramani, at least sixteen women journalists have openly narrated their stories of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour when he was an Editor.
There was a constant outpour from the media as well as opposition Congress, asking the former Editor to either come clean following sexual harassment charges against him or resign. Infact Indian National Congress also demanded that there should have been an independent probe into the charges against Akbar.
The Minister returned on Sunday from his official Nigerian tour and after rumours of his resigning in the morning hours, he clarified via a formal statement that he chose to take the legal route against Ramani.
MJ Akbar’s statement on Sunday, 14th October
The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad.
Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action.
My response is:
Ms. Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not, however, name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a Tweet: “Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything.”
If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There is no story. This was admitted at the very inception. But a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total, unsubstantiated hearsay; others confirm, on the record, that I didn’t do anything. Let me note examples. Shutapa Paul states, “The man never laid a hand on me.”
Shuma Raha says, “I must clarify, however, that he didn’t actually ‘do’ anything”. One woman, Anju Bharti, went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim.
Another accusation was made repeatedly by Ms. Ghazala Wahab, in an effort to damage my reputation. She claimed that she had been molested in office, 21 years ago. This is 16 years before I entered public life, and when I was in media.
The only office where I worked with her was that of The Asian Age. A part of the editorial team then worked out of a small hall. At the time concerned, I had a very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass. Others had tables and chairs two feet away. It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless.
Ms. Wahab states that she complained to Ms. Veenu Sandal, who wrote features for the paper. Ms. Sandal has described Ms. Wahab’s version as nonsense, in an interview to the Indian Express. Ms. Sandal has also said that she has never heard, in 20 years, anybody accusing me of any such thing.
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. The reason why they remained silent for decades is very apparent: as Ms .Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything.
This is the reason why no one went to the authorities for so long, because I had done nothing.
Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge.
These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill.
Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. As indicated above, I will be taking appropriate legal action.
— M.J. Akbar (@mjakbar) October 14, 2018
MJ Akbar clearly defended himself by denying all charges against him and nowhere he suggested that he would resign from the public office. He infact stated that he would take appropriate legal action.
However, today, after days of pressure mounting on the Union Government, Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar stepped down from his official post.
In his statement, Akbar said he had decided to seek justice in a court of law in his personal capacity.
“I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity,” Akbar said. “I have, therefore, tendered my resignation…”
He also expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for giving him the opportunity to serve the country.
— ANI (@ANI) October 17, 2018
Akbar has filed a criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani, and his lawsuit said,
“Ramani intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated and salacious” allegations to harm the former editor’s reputation.”
Ramani on the other hand has said that “she was ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against her, as truth and the absolute truth was her only defence.”
Seventeen journalists have come together to support and back Ramani fully in her fight against the mighty and powerful Akbar. In their statement they said,
“Ms Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment.”
The Patiala House court has listed the criminal defamation case for Thursday.
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