The list grows: MeToo firestorm singes Akbar

The list grows: MeToo firestorm singes Akbar

M J Akbar

India’s “MeToo” campaign gathered steam on Tuesday, singing former editor and Union Minister M J Akbar, television star Alok Nath and Malayalam actor-politician Mukesh. 

As more women recounted their experiences of sexual harassment in the entertainment and media industry, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi came out seeking “action on each and every allegation”.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, however, chose not to respond when asked to comment on journalist Priya Ramani’s allegations of inappropriate behaviour against M J Akbar, who is the Minister of State for External Affairs in the Narendra Modi government.

The heat turned on Akbar after Ramani — hired by him long ago — wrote a piece making a direct allegation of sexual harassment against him. She said she did not name Akbar earlier because he didn’t “do” anything, but lots of women may have worse stories related to him to share.

Many other women journalists took to Twitter to allege how Akbar conducted job interviews in fancy hotel rooms and made sexual advances when they were starting out in the media.

Ramani said she was 23 when Akbar called her to a Mumbai hotel room for a job interview around 20 years ago. Akbar was “an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer,” she said in the article which she reposted on Twitter on Monday.

“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.”

Another journalist, Prerna Singh Bindra, said Akbar “made life at work hell” when she refused his sexual overtures.

Now a BJP member in the Rajya Sabha, Akbar was the founding editor of The Telegraph and The Asian Age. He was yet to come out with a public response on the accusations against him.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi called for strict action in the case.

“At least an investigation should definitely be conducted. Men who are in power and position often do it. This applies to the media, politicians or people holding high ranks.

“Women generally do not speak out. They fear that they will be branded as having bad character. Now when they have started speaking up, we should take it with all seriousness,” she told India Today.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) “unequivocally” condemned “all predatory conduct by such men”. Extending its “total support” to all women journalists who suffered a disadvantage in their career, physical or mental trauma, the EGI said it was “also committed to” ensuring that the legal rights of the victims or the accused are not violated.

The Guild called upon media organisations to hold “unbiased inquiries” into all reported cases. “This is the time for all of us to strengthen our internal processes. Anybody found guilty of sexual harassment or assault should be punished as provided in the law,” the EGI said in a statement.

BJP MP Udit Raj rubbished the spate of allegations as the “beginning of a wrong trend”.

“The #MeToo campaign is required but what is the point of levelling allegations of sexual exploitation against someone 10 years after the incident? Will it be possible to verify the truth of such accusations after these many years? What if they turn out to be false?,” he said.

As the campaign gathered steam, several lawyers on Twitter voiced solidarity with the victims and offered them help.

(With inputs from PTI)