#MeToo: Several women allege sexual harassment by Union Minister and then Editor MJ Akbar

Union Minister of State for External Affairs and former editor of The Telegraph, M.J. Akbar, has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple people online in India’s version of #MeToo movement that is currently going on. In what appears to be a pattern, Akbar is alleged to have interviewed female journalists in hotel rooms, asking them to sit on the bed and making them feel extremely uncomfortable.

One of the first allegations against Akbar was made by journalist Priya Ramani. In an article for Vogue in 2017, Ramani wrote that a particular editor invited her for an interview to his flat. During the interview, she was offered a drink and the editor sang old Hindi songs to her after inquiring about her music preferences. She wrote, “You’re an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer. You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab, and assault. Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay. Sometimes you are inconvenienced when the stories get out and you are asked to take a time out.” It was only during the #MeToo storm brought about by the expose of Utsav Chakraborty and other comedians and journalists that Ramani confirmed that she was referring to Akbar.

Since then, multiple people have come forward with their allegations against M.J. Akbar. Writer Prerna Singh Bhindra accused him of making her life hell at work and passing lewd remarks at her. Journalist Harminder Baweja remarked that many journalists are sure to have an ‘MJ’ story.

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Ghazala Wahab, in an article for The Wire, described in vivid detail the horror that she allegedly went through working for the Asian Age under Akbar. She claims that she was sexually harassed on an extremely regular basis and that Akbar even used psychological tactics to coerce her into having his way with her physically. She says that she was called to Akbar’s room every day and he would make attempts to paw at her and touch her inappropriately. Eventually, she had to quit her job to escape the terror that she was experiencing at work. She also remarks, “I also frequently heard office gossip about his affairs with sub-editors/ reporters or that in every regional office of the Asian Age he had a girlfriend.” She also mentions that she had heard people refer to the Asian Age office as Akbar’s harem.

Another freelance journalist, Kanika Gahlaut, who has worked with Akbar in the past describes a similar pattern of behaviour. She told The Indian Express, “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. She further said that she was invited to a hotel by Akbar as well. But since she was aware of Akbar’s reputation for sexual misconduct, she agreed to come but did not show up. She later made an excuse and claims that he never bothered her and never had to face any consequences.

The allegations against M.J. Akbar are serious and demand further investigation into the matter. If found to be true, it speaks of a regular pattern of criminal behaviour and he should have no place in any position of power. Thus far, he has not issued any statement in this regard, who is currently attending the India-West Africa Conclave in Nigeria.

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