Politics

Women who accused M J Akbar of sexual harassment

Union Minister and former journalist M J Akbar has tendered his resignation after several women, mostly journalists who had worked under him, accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour when he worked as a newspaper editor.

Akbar has been outed by over 15 women journalists as part of the #MeToomovement that has swept Indian media and the entertainment industry.

Here are the accounts of the nine victims:

1. Priya Ramani, who worked at India Today, The Indian Express and Mint, was the first to go on record that Akbar had allegedly called her to his hotel room.

In a 2017 piece for Vogue, Ramani described her experience with the then editor for a job interview. She wrote it was “more date, less interview” during which he offered her a drink and sang her “old Hindi songs”. He also asked her to sit on his bed, which she declined.

 

Ramani tweeted a link to that piece saying: “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.”

2. Freelance journalist Kanika Gahlaut, who worked with Akbar from 1995 to 1997 in various capacities at various publications said, “One did hear, from the beginning, from before we joined that MJ (Akbar) had a glad eye, and we were forewarned”. Akbar “did it to everyone”, she said speaking to The Indian Express.

Gahlaut wasn’t sure “if everyone got hit (on)”. “I certainly did, and my friend did,” she said adding that neither of them faced any repercussions.

3. Suparna Sharma, currently the Resident Editor of The Asian Age, Delhi was in her early 20s when she became a part of the launch team of the newspaper headed by Akbar.

Speaking to The Indian Express, she recalled the time when she was making the page one of the paper and Akbar was “standing behind” her. “He plucked my bra strap and said something which I don’t remember now. I screamed at him,” said Sharma.

 

In another incident, “He stared at my breasts and then said something which I ignored,” Sharma added.

She said at least three women confided in her about Akbar’s alleged sexual misconduct. “He mostly preyed on young women who lived alone, loved their jobs and were bright and ambitious,” she added.

4. In another case, author Shuma Raha told The Indian Express that she was asked to come to the Taj Bengal in Kolkata in 1995 for a job interview at the Asian Age. “When I reached the lobby, he asked me to come upstairs and I didn’t think too much of it but there was a level of discomfort about sitting on the bed while giving an interview,” Raha said.

She said that Akbar offered the job and said, “Why don’t you come over for a drink later?” Raha said that the comment unnerved her, and was a major reason she did not take him up on the job offer.

5.  Journalist Prerna Singh Bindra, without naming Akbar at first. mentioned of a similar invitation to a hotel room. She said this “brilliant, flamboyant” editor called her to his hotel room to “discuss work” after she had “put the edition to bed — read midnight & made life at work hell when I refused.”

 

On Monday, however, Bindra mentioned Akbar’s name. In subsequent tweets, she said that Akbar made “lewd comments” at her.

6. Journalist Shutapa Paul, who had worked with India Today when Akbar was with the organisation, also recounted a similar incident.  Paul put out a series of tweets in which she recalled the time when Akbar called her to his hotel room late at night and how she had to face repercussions in the newsroom because she refused to yield.

7. In a detailed account written for The Wire, Ghazala Wahab, executive editor of Force magazine, described several instances where Akbar allegedly molested her by grabbing her, rubbing his body against hers and forcefully kissing her in his office.

She recalled, “Once, in autumn of 1997… he sneaked up behind me and held me by my waist. I stumbled in sheer fright while struggling to get to my feet. He ran his hands from my breast to my hips. I tried pushing his hands away, but they were plastered on my waist, his thumbs rubbing the sides of my breasts.” All this while, she wrote, “the wily smile never left his face”.

 

8. Writing in web portal Scroll, Tushita Patel, who was part of the team that started The Asian Age, headed by Akbar, spoke about three separate incidents, one in which he had greeted her in his underwear and twice when he had forcibly kissed her.  According to Patel, the first incident took place in 1992, when she was a trainee at The Telegraph in Kolkata. Akbar, who was The Telegraph Editor, had quit to join politics in 1989. She said she met him the first time with friends, and that later, he had persuaded her to meet him at his hotel for some “work-related discussion”. Patel wrote that when she rang the doorbell, “You opened the door dressed only in your underwear. I stood at the door, stricken, scared and awkward. You stood there like the VIP man, amused by my fear. I did go in and carried on blabbering out of fear till you finally put on a bathrobe.”

9. New York-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp  has accused Akbar of forcibly kissing her when she was interning at The Asian Age in 2007.

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