New Delhi: The Congress on Wednesday demanded that journalist-turned-Union minister MJ Akbar explain allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him as part of the raging #MeToo movement or step down from the position.
While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj refused to answer a question on the allegations against her junior minister, the ripples of the movement to call out those who had allegedly sexually harassed women, verbally or physically, were felt across the media and entertainment industry.
“MJ Akbar has the stature of being a veteran journalist in addition to being junior External Affairs Minister. Sushma Swaraj could not comment on her own subordinate. MJ Akbar should either come out with a satisfactory explanation or must resign from the post in the government. We demand an inquiry into the allegations. If Justice 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,” Congress leader Jaipal Reddy said, invoking the controversial entry of #MeToo-accused Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.
Speaking to CNN-News18, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “I cannot speak on the MeToo movement, but I support the courage with which many women have spoken out. This must be a hard memory on the women who have faced these incidents.”
She, however, declined to comment on the allegations against MJ Akbar.
The MoS 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 confirmed this week 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.
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 said. Detailing how he made her uncomfortable, she said he had called her for a job interview to a “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 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.