Several women, mostly journalists, claimed they were sexually harassed by M J Akbar.

Hours after Union minister M J Akbar rejected allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment and suggested they may have been guided by political motives, five of the women journalists who accused him said they stood by their statements. Two of them said they were disappointed by Akbar’s reaction, but they were not surprised.

Suparna Sharma, Resident Editor, The Asian Age, told The Indian Express, “I stand by my testimony of the two incidents — one in which he plucked my bra strap, and the other when he stared at my breasts. I also stand by the fact that he did the same with other women in the office. I am disappointed with Akbar’s response but I am not surprised. This is going to be a longish battle, and the next step in many cases is a legal step.”

In his statement, Akbar said his lawyers would “look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action”. Sharma said that for her, “it was not over yet”, and that she was speaking to friends for “legal advice”.

Responding to Akbar’s question, “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda?”, New York-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp (30), said: “I am not a citizen, I cannot vote. I do not have a political agenda. Plus, I have a paper trail. My father wrote an email to Akbar about the incident to which he responded. I have evidence. I am disappointed but not surprised by his statement. I am, however, very comfortable with my story.”

Puy Kamp has accused Akbar of forcibly kissing her when she was interning at The Asian Age in 2007.

Priya Ramani, who on October 8 outed Akbar as the unnamed editor she had mentioned in a piece she had written in October 2017 in Vogue India, told The Indian Express Sunday: “Akbar has decided to brazen it out. There is no conspiracy against Akbar, none of us — unlike him — have any political ambitions. We are speaking up at great cost to our personal and professional lives.”

Ramani also said, “The truth is the best defence in any defamation case. I’m not worried.”

Freelance journalist Kanika Gahlaut, who worked with Akbar from 1995 to 1997, too said, “I stand by whatever I said.” Gahlaut had told The Indian Express that she wasn’t sure “if everyone got hit (on)”, but “I certainly did, and my friend did”.

Shutapa Paul, who had tweeted about her experience with Akbar on October 10, told The Indian Express Sunday that she will “not be intimidated by my tormentor and cower down”. She said: “I am shocked and dismayed. M J Akbar’s brazen shaming of all of us is evidence of his sense of entitlement and power. Our fight is the fight for every woman; a fight for justice, a fight against feeling violated in the workplace and in daily life.”

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