Stung by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by at least 14 women journalists, former Editor and Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar, resigned on Wednesday. His resignation comes a day before the hearing of a criminal defamation case filed by him against Priya Ramani, the first to have called him out, in a Delhi court.
According to a statement released by ANI, Akbar said he had stepped down from office as he had decided to seek "justice in a court of law in my personal capacity" to "challenge false accusations levied against me."
The chorus for Akbar's resignation had reached a crescendo after the Minister filed a criminal defamation suit again one of the 14 women journalists who had accused him. On Tuesday, 20 women journalists who had worked with Akbar in The Asian Age came out in support of Ramani, saying they would tesify against him in court. An undeterred Ramani, backed by various press and womens' organisations,said that "truth will be my defence." Some male journalists, too, have came out in support of their female colleagues.
“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,” wrote the 20 women journalists in a statement.
Akbar, who was out of the country when the allegations flew around on social media as part of the #MeToo movement, was expected to resign the day he landed in Delhi, but the Modi government seemed to have given him the go-ahead to brazen it out, said his critics. This is despite that fact that three women Cabinet Ministers -- Maneka Gandhi, Smriti Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman-- openly backed the women who accused Akbar of sexual harassment.
The silence of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leaves no opportunity to spout his government's commitment to ensuring the safety of women, has invited a lot of flak from women's organisations, some opposition parties as well as international media. By taking a 'business as usual' stance, the Modi government was seen as clearly sending out a message that sexual harassment of women is not a cause enough to sack a Minister.
After all, Modi had included rape accused Nihal Chand (Rajasthan) in his Cabinet and no action has been taken against him as yet. There has been no action against Kuldeep Sengar, the BJP MLA accused of rape in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. In Haryana, there was no action against the state BJP president who put pressure on the police on a senior bureaucrat's daughter Varnika Kundu. The girl was stalked and harassed by the state BJP chief's son, Vikas Barala.
Vindicated, Say Women Journalists
Women journalists who levelled allegations of sexual harassment and molestation against former Editor M.J. Akbar expressed their happiness over his stepping down as the Minister of State for External Affairs.
Priya Ramani, who was the first to go public with her accusation and is facing a defamation suit filed by Akbar, said she was "vindicated".
"As women, we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court," Ramani tweeted.
Journalist Suparna Sharma who had accused Akbar of having "plucked my bra strap", said the fight was not over with his resignation.
"Akbar should have resigned immediately after returning to India instead of issuing a statement," said Sharma referring to Akbar's Sunday statement where he had rubbished all the allegations and questioned the motive behind them.
"When he issued the statement, it seemed it was government versus Priya Ramani. Now that he has resigned, it is Akbar vs Priya Ramani," she said insisting the former minister should withdraw the defamation case against Ramani.
Journalist Harinder Baweja, who too had accused Akbar, wondered if Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would now "break their silence".
(With inputs from IANS)