Akbar Accused

Congress has asked Union Minister M.J. Akbar to respond to allegations of sexual harassment or resign from his post. (M.J. Akbar Twitter photo)

NEW DELHI — The Congress Oct. 10 asked former editor and Union Minister M.J. Akbar to either come clean following sexual harassment charges against him or resign. It also sought an independent probe into the charges against Akbar.

"Akbar has a stature as a journalist, apart from being a minister. He should offer a satisfactory explanation either through a statement or personally, or resign forthwith," Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy told the media here. 

"How can he be in the ministry with such serious allegations levelled by responsible journalists who have worked with him? Let there be an inquiry. We demand an inquiry against Akbar," said Reddy.

At least six women journalists have accused Akbar, now the minister of state for External Affairs, of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior when he was an editor.

The Congress also targeted the Modi government, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, for its silence on the issue. 

"We had hoped that women cutting across political lines will come out in support of these brave women who have now come out and revealed their ordeal and tragic stories. Unfortunately, Sushma Swaraj, to whom many look up to for inspiration, has chosen to stay quiet," said Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi.

"It also raises a finger at the government that talks of women empowerment and safety but maintains a dubious silence on the matter," she said.

While Swaraj Oct. 9 ducked media queries on the allegations against Akbar, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad Oct. 10 refused to answer any question – including questions on Akbar and the #MeToo campaign – other than those pertaining to Cabinet decisions. 

Chaturvedi also demanded an apology from Bharatiya Janata Party MP Udit Raj, who Oct. 9 questioned why women were coming out with their stories 10 years after the alleged incidents, calling it the "beginning of wrong practice."

Meanwhile, three more women journalists came out with allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar. 

Journalists Ghazala Wahab, Saba Naqvi and Shutapa Paul narrated their ordeals working under Akbar. Wahab wrote a piece in the news website The Wire narrating what she called was her "nightmare." 

"In my third year at the Asian Age, the office culture hit home. His eyes fell on me. And my nightmare began. My desk was shifted to just outside his cabin, perpendicularly opposite his desk, so that if the door to his room was left slightly open, I was face to face with him. He would sit at his desk and watch me all the time, often sending me lewd messages on the Asian Age intranet network. Thereafter, emboldened by my obvious helplessness, he started calling me into his cabin (the door to which he would always shut) for conversation, most of which was personal in nature. Things like my family background and how I was working and living alone in Delhi against the wishes of my parents," Wahab wrote in the article. 

Wahab described several instances when Akbar groped and held her in his office after closing the door. "I would enter his room, with the door slightly open and with my hand on the door knob. This amused him. Sometimes, he would walk over to the door and put his hand over mine; sometimes he would rub his body against mine; sometimes he would push his tongue against my pursed lips; and every time I would push him away and escape from his room," she wrote.

She also told the Asian Age Chief of Bureau Seema Mustafa, about the editor's behavior with her, who told her, according to Wahab, that it was "her call."

Naqvi, who wrote a piece in DailyO, talked about what she experienced in her first job.

"I was dealing with a predator, who would have had a high success rate in pinning down his prey. His genius and talent was made an excuse for his behavior but when the moral center is hollow, even cleverness wears thin, as it has done with the Badshah." 

Naqvi said that she was writing the account to ensure that more male bosses are deterred from acting as sexual bullies.

Paul, then the Kolkata correspondent for India Today, narrated her account in a series of tweets.

"MJAkbar told me how journalists working together often 'grew close' and things could happen between them. He told me I should accompany him on his foreign visits. I told him about my mother, my recently deceased father and the committed relationship I was in at that time." 

Mustafa, who headed the reporting section in the Asian Age for ten years, and to whom Wahab complained against Akbar, expressed her personal opinion in a piece in the online magazine TheCitizen. Mustafa is the editor-in-chief of the magazine. 

She said it was at the Asian Age that "one became aware of his growing interest in younger girls, and while many joined and stayed the course there were no complaint from the Bureau." She said it seemed to be a different story on the desk, as all his favorites – male colleagues included – were there and he would party with them, drink with them, mix with them while keeping a long distance from the Bureau. 

Referring to Wahab's account, she said it was "a case of total harassment and nastiness" by Akbar. 

"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. My full support and solidarity for Ghazala Wahab who had obviously gone through hell and has come out of it," Mustafa said.

She said Wahab's article had given the proof of Akbar's behavior for which he needs to lose his job. 

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