As the #MeToo campaign gathered momentum in India, as many as seven women journalists have come out and accused former editor and now the Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar of sexually harassing them during his stint as a journalist.
The Congress said on Wednesday Akbar must either offer a satisfactory explanation on the allegations or resign immediately. The party also demanded an inquiry into his conduct.
The latest in the list of women journalists who accused Akbar of sexual misconduct is Ghazala Wahab, the executive editor of Force magazine. Wahab on Wednesday shared her experience with Akbar in an article for The Wire. In the article, Wahab wrote that during her initial years at the newspaper, she "accepted everything as part of the office culture — Akbar's flirtation with young sub-editors, his blatant favouritism and his bawdy jokes".
"His eyes fell on me. And my nightmare began" in her third year at The Asian Age. She also wrote that Akbar’s persistence in trying to force himself on her in his cabin at The Asian Age office, the emotional tactics he resorted to when he realised his physical advances would not work and also how he got the newspaper's tarot card columnist to tell her he really loved her.
"I wonder when the floodgates will open about @mjakbar," Wahab had tweeted on October 6. Wahab said she decided to write her "Akbar story" after much persuasion by her former colleagues at The Asian Age, where she worked with him.
Senior journalist Seema Mustafa, who worked with Wahab, said she had heard such rumours around the newsroom.
“But now I read the story of Ghazala Wahab, a case of total harassment and nastiness by MJ Akbar. Out of the MeToo movement, but a strong indictment of the editor and his behaviour. A confirmation of what we thought he did, and had little by way of evidence. She says she spoke to me, and I am sure she is right. If she spoke to me she did not share the details as she has written them now,” said Mustafa, while writing for The Citizen.
While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has refused to answer a question on the allegations against her junior minister, a journalist-turned-politician, Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi was the only BJP leader to call for an investigation.
Priya Ramani, formerly worked with India Today, The Indian Express and Mint, had first shared her account a year ago when the #MeToo campaign exploded in the US with the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Ramani, however, had not named Akbar when she wrote in the Vogue India article in October last year. On October 8, Ramani shared the article tweeting: “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.”
Expressing concern over the instances of alleged sexual harassment, the Editors Guild of India has called upon the news media organisations to conduct unbiased probes into all such cases. The Guild said it unequivocally condemns all "predatory conduct" by such men.On Wednesday,
Congress spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy, in a press conference, said: "I think MJ Akbar must either offer a satisfactory explanation or resign forthwith. How can he be in the ministry with serious allegations being levelled against him by responsible journalists who worked with him. Let there be an inquiry into it. We demand an inquiry into MJ Akbar's conduct."
Reddy also questioned Swaraj's silence on the issue, saying she is evading responsibility and is not prepared to comment on her subordinate.
News Nation has sent an email to Akbar’s official id, asking for his reaction on the allegations against him. The story will be updated with his response.
(With PTI inputs)