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Congress’ Jaipal Reddy says MJ Akbar must resign if he can’t explain sexual harassment charges

As the MeToo fire rages on, charring reputations as more women narrate their experiences of unsolicited sexual behaviour with Union minister MJ Akbar and actor Alok Nath among those named for their alleged actions, Congress demanded the resignation of the junior minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs. What could add to the turmoil for the minister, Akbar faces accusations from more than one woman as his once illustrious career as a journalist now nearly stand on the verge of demolition.

Congress leader and former Union minister Jaipal Reddy, at a press conference, said, “MJ Akbar has his own stature of being a veteran journalist in addition to being junior minister with the External Affairs Ministry. Sushma Swaraj could not comment on her own subordinate. Akbar should either come out with a satisfactory explanation or he must resign from his post in the government. We demand an enquiry into these allegations. If Justice Brett Kavanaugh can be asked for an explanation then why not MJ Akbar who allegedly did whatever he did much later in his life than Kavanaugh.”

While women from across the media have flooded social media with harrowing stories of their encounter, politicians, Union ministers and leaders of ruling parties had maintained a stoic silence, except Maneka Gandhi. Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka, is the only BJP leader who, so far, has openly reacted to the stream of survivors’ accounts, naming prominent personalities, pouring out on social media. Though the minister did not explicitly react to allegations against Akbar, she did assert that the survivors’ voice should not be questioned and a probe should be carried out in such cases. Maneka spoke to India Today after the accusations against Akbar, and others, made headlines: “There should be an investigation. Those who are in positions of power always use it, whether it is film, media or industry. Whenever women make such allegations, we should take them very seriously,” she said. “Women are scared of speaking out thinking people will make fun of them or question their character. Now that women are speaking up we should take action on each and every allegation,” she added while responding to a questions specifically about a “big politician” named in multiple survivors’ accounts. Women began to share their encounters with Akbar after journalist Priya Ramani re-plugged her article in Vogue from October 2017. Written after a string of women accused Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, Priya wrote about her experience with Akbar, but did not name him. In the Vogue article, Ramani said that Akbar had invited her to a hotel room in Mumbai for an interview and made uncomfortable advances towards her. She was 23 years old, while he was 43. “I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator — maybe they’ll share.”

 

Soon after Ramani shared her tweet, a number of women retweeted and shared their own encounters with Akbar, accusing him of making them feel uncomfortable by calling them to his hotel rooms for interviews, inviting himself to their houses with a bottle of alcohol to even turning up at their houses “for coffee”.

Even as this latest addition to the #MeToo movement took over headlines, Sushma on Tuesday refused to respond when she was asked whether there would be an “internal investigation” into the allegations against Akbar. TimesNow and India Today reporters yell out to her, reminding her that she is a “woman minister”, and ask her what action she would take against Akbar, but Sushma chooses to stay mum.

Even as Sushma refused to comment on the allegations against Akbar, Congress national spokesperson Manish Tewari said the case dates back to when Akbar was a journalist, not a political leader. “MJ should come up and speak on this. The prime minister should speak on the allegations against his minister,” he said.

“The minister concerned (Akbar) should speak up. Silence cannot be a way out. It’s an extremely serious matter and should be investigated.” The #MeToo movement, which began with sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein last year, picked up pace again in India after actor Tanushree Dutta accused her co-star from 10 years ago Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her on the sets of Horn Ok Pleasss.

Buoyed by her move to speak up against sexual misconduct by men, women beyond the realms of just Bollywood have been sharing their experiences and the trauma they have gone through. Notable among them have been the accounts shared by female journalists, bringing to light the prevalence of sexual harassment in the media.

‘Top journo-turned-politician/MP whom everyone is too scared to name’ was a recurring theme on social media, several of which alluded to Firstpost‘s piece, written by a contributor who sought anonymity to avoid causing anguish to her family — the author and this website have chosen to adhere to that original position.

A journalist quoted Ramani’s tweet, saying, “So many of us have an MJ story.”

Another Twitter user, who had tweeted her experience with a “brilliant, flamboyant editor who dabbled in politics” on Sunday, revealed on Tuesday that it was Akbar who had called her to his his hotel room to “discuss work” and “made life at work hell” when she refused his advances”.

Another Twitter user said she had gone through an experience with Akbar similar to Ramani’s at a hotel in Kolkata in 1995, after which 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,” she wrote.

A woman recounted how he “turned up at my friend’s house one night for a coffee” and how he “made life hell for her at their workplace” after she did not let him in.

Another Twitter user highlighted an account from 1999, which he said was based on Akbar.

Scroll.in quoted a former journalist who worked under Akbar in the 1990s as saying that Akbar would “try his luck with anything that moved, but was not particularly vindictive”. “I think Akbar is slimy in many ways. There was a clear category of successful male behaviour that he fell within — this was the trouble. People didn’t even realise or think that there is anything wrong with this behaviour,” she added.

The website quoted another journalist who worked with Akbar as saying that he would “try and manipulate young, impressionable women”. “There were always more young women than men in office, and it used to be called Akbar’s harem. This was the reputation he came with,” the report quoted her as saying.

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