New Delhi: Amid more and more women journalists coming out with allegations of sexual harassment against M J Akbar, the Union minister on Wednesday resigned as the Minister of State for External Affairs.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of Minister of State for External Affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and to the external Affair Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country,” he said in a statement.
Reacting to Akbar’s resignation, journalist Priya Ramani — the first woman to come out and accuse the former of sexual misconduct — said, “As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #metoo.”
The resignation came after as many as 20 women, including 19 women journalists who have worked with ‘The Asian Age’ newspaper, issued a joint statement on Tuesday extending support of their colleague Priya Ramani who has accused Union minister M J Akbar of sexual harassment.
In their written petition, they asked the court hearing the defamation case to consider their testimony about the “culture of casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation that he engendered and presided over” at the newspaper
“Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider the testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment,” the journalists said in the joint statement undersigned by them.
Meenal Baghel who worked for Asian Age (1993 to 1996), Manisha Pande (1993-1998), Tushita Patel (1993-2000), Kanika Gahlaut (1995-1998), Suparna Sharma (1993-1996), Ramola Talwar Badam (1994-1995), Hoihnu Hauzel (1999-2000), Aisha Khan (1995-1998) and Kushalrani Gulab (1993-1997) have signed the statement.
Kaniza Gazari (Asian Age 1995-1997), Malavika Banerjee (1995-1998), A T Jayanthi (1995-1996), Hamida Parkar (1996-1999), Jonali Buragohain, Meenakshi Kumar (1996-2000), Sujata Dutta Sachdeva (1999-2000), Reshmi Chakraborty (1996-98), Kiran Manral (1993-96) and Sanjari Chatterjee are the other journalists to sign the statement.
One journalist from Deccan Chronicle, Christina Francis (2005-2011), also signed the statement.
“What Akbar has demonstrated through his legal actions is his refusal to introspect, acknowledge or atone for his actions that have caused immense pain and indeed harm to many women over the years.
“He himself, in the meanwhile, continues to enjoy enormous power and privilege as minister and Member of Parliament,” the statement said.
“When Ramani spoke out against him in public, she spoke not only about her personal experience, but also lifted the lid on the culture of ‘casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation’ that Akbar engendered and presided over at The Asian Age,” it said.
According to sources, there was a view in the government that the minister should fight the case in his personal capacity and not as a Union minister.
Reacting to the development, Union Minister Ramdas Athwale called it a “right decision” by Akbar and said that proper investigation should be done against the charges levelled on him.
“Opposition was asking him to resign on moral grounds. This is a right decision taken by him. The allegations on him should be properly investigated,” Athawale said.
On his return from an overseas trip on Sunday, Akbar responded to the demands for his resignation by terming the accusations against him “false, fabricated and deeply distressing”. Alleging political vendetta, he had also questioned the timing of the allegations saying why the storm had come months before the general elections.
On Monday, Akbar filed a private criminal defamation case against Ramani, accusing her of “wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously” defaming him and sought her prosecution under the penal provision on defamation.
Ramani asserted that she was ready to fight the defamation complaint filed against her, and expressed disappointment over the minister’s statement, saying it paid no heed to the “trauma and fear of the survivors”.
“I am ready to fight the allegations of defamation laid against me as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence,” she had said.