#MeToo: All the Accusations of Sexual Harassment Against MJ Akbar
File photo of MoS for External Affairs MJ Akbar. 
File photo of MoS for External Affairs MJ Akbar. (Photo: PTI)

#MeToo: All the Accusations of Sexual Harassment Against MJ Akbar

A number of women journalists have named former Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar for sexually harassing them while he was working as an editor of a newspaper. These journalists have given detailed accounts of Akbar violating consent and conducting uncomfortable interviews in hotel rooms.

Akbar resigned from his position, on 17 October, after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment.

Akbar is the first political figure to have emerged in the list of men who have been accused of sexually assaulting and harassing women from across the media and entertainment industry.

Also Read : More Journalists Accuse MoS MJ Akbar, MEA Remains Silent

I WAS RAPED BY MJ AKBAR: PALLAVI GOGOI

In a piece written for The Washington Post, journalist Pallavi Gogoi has narrated her ordeal and has written about how she was allegedly raped by MJ Akbar back in the 1990s.

Gogoi goes on to write about the spring or summer of 1994 when she was working as the op-ed editor for the Asian Age and was first assaulted by Akbar. She describes it as an embarrassment for herself that left her scarred.

Narrating the incident, Gogoi writes, “I went to show him the op-ed page I had created with what I thought were clever headlines. He applauded my effort and suddenly lunged to kiss me. I reeled. I emerged from the office, red-faced, confused, ashamed, destroyed.”

In her piece, Gogoi has narrated other incidents where Akbar made advances and threatened her if she refused.

Narrating another such incident Gogoi recalls the time when she was summoned to Bombay to help Akbar launch a magazine. She was called to Akbar’s hotel room to show him the layouts, Akbar tried to kiss her and when she resisted, he scratched her face.

As Gogoi pens down, she started looking for more reporting opportunities to “escape” office and as one story took her to a remote village a few miles away from Delhi, she was called to meet Akbar in a hotel in Jaipur, where her assignment was to end.

Gogoi then recalls what happened with her in that hotel room.

“He ripped off my clothes and raped me. Instead of reporting him to the police, I was filled with shame. I didn’t tell anyone about this then. Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself. Why did I go to the hotel room?”
Pallavi Gogoi

She also mentions that she doesn’t know why she couldn’t fight Akbar but remembers that his grip on her became tighter after the Jaipur incident.

“He continued to coerce me. For a few months, he continued to defile me sexually, verbally, emotionally,” Gogoi narrates.

Gogoi narrates another incident after which she “left”.

After the 1994 December elections she was sent to the United States and the United Kingdom, which she thought would help her escape the abuse but instead Akbar would prey on her in the city where she was posted, she recalls.

“I recall the time he worked himself into a rage in the London office because he had seen me talk in a friendly manner to a male colleague. After my colleagues left work that evening, he hit me and went on a rampage, throwing things from the desk at me — a pair of scissors, a paperweight, whatever he could get his hands on.”
Pallavi Gogoi

Gogoi remembers how she was mentally, emotionally and physically drained. And as she remembers – “I left. This time for good.”

‘OUR TIME IS NOW, MR AKBAR’: RUTH DAVID, 1999

In a blog written on Medium, journalist Ruth David has accused MJ Akbar of sexually harassing her when she was a trainee at Asian Age in Delhi in 1999.

Speaking of the 'Faustian bargain' she was expected to make as a young woman in the newsroom, she writes how Akbar tried to kiss her as she squirmed away while he gave her a task to proofread his book. Akbar also asked her to move to a different bureau, where he would "set me (David) up in an apartment." According to David's account, Akbar later told her how much he was attracted to her and "how much he cared" about her.

In an excerpt from the blog, she says

“Our time is now Mr Akbar. It has taken two decades and so many brave women across the world sharing their painful stories of abuse for me to speak up. Including other women who started out as interns at The Asian Age and whose accounts sound so sordidly similar to mine. But may there be many more who raise their voices in protest so that every last citadel of abuse, that men like you have built, continues to fall.”

IT STARTED WITH AN ACCOUNT BY JOURNALIST PRIYA RAMANI

Priya Ramani, who was formerly associated with India Today, The Indian Express and Mint, was the first to level allegations against MJ Akbar.

In a piece titled ‘To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world’ published in Vogue India in October 2017, Ramani describes an experience that she had with Akbar, when he was an editor – without naming him.

She says that she was invited to a plush hotel in Mumbai for a job interview, which she remembers more as a date than an interview. She goes on to call him a “predator” and says, “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,” the article read.

On Monday, 8 October, Ramani took to Twitter to name her aggressor – MJ Akbar.

Also Read : MEA Silent on Sexual Harassment Claim Against MoS MJ Akbar

SHUMA RAHA: 1995 KOLKATA

After Ramani tweeted the 2017 article naming Akbar, another journalist Shuma Raha took to Twitter and said, “Year: 1995, Place Taj Bengal, Kolkata. After that encounter, I declined the job offer.”

Raha also clarified that Akbar didn’t do anything to her, although she mentioned the experience of an interview in a hotel room was “deeply uncomfortable”.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Raha also said that she was asked by Akbar to come to his hotel room for the interview in Kolkata in the year 1995 and the level of discomfort she faced while giving the interview, sitting on the bed, was one of the major reasons why she didn’t take up the job.

Also Read : #MeToo: “Rajat Kapoor Tried to Kiss Me Repeatedly, I Was 20”

HE RAN HIS HANDS FROM MY BREAST TO HIPS: GHAZALA MUSTAFA

Another journalist Ghazala Wahab wrote her account on news portal The Wire.

Recalling her early days as a journalist, Wahab said she joined The Asian Age in 1994, as an intern, where Akbar was an editor. And it was in 1997, her third year at work, when the “office culture hit her”.

Wahab said that Akbar would send her lewd messages on The Asian Age intranet and would often call her to his cabin, where she was repeatedly harassed.

Wahab mentioned that she was called to Akbar’s room, while he would write his weekly column, to look up words from a dictionary that was placed on a low surface. In one such incident, she mentioned that she was squatting to look up a word when Akbar held her 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,” Wazab said.

She also mentioned multiple instances where Akbar touched her inappropriately and repeatedly harassed her.

Wahab also said that she had confided in the then bureau chief of the newspaper, Seema Mustafa, but her cries had fallen on deaf ears.

Also Read : #MeToo: NCW Reaches Out to Sexual Harassment Survivors

PRERNA SINGH BINDRA: ANOTHER HOTEL ROOM INTERVIEW

On 6 October, journalist Prerna Singh Bindra put out a tweet saying she was called to a hotel room by this “brilliant, flamboyant editor who dabbled in politics” and later made her worklife harder when she refused. Bindra hadn’t spoken, named the editor at that moment, but later on 8 October she, too, named Akbar.

She also mentioned that Akbar once made “lewd comments” during a meeting with the entire features team. Bindra also recalls how the other girls (in the team) had told her that they were invited to hotel rooms too.

SHUTAPA PAUL: 2010-2011 IN KOLKATA

Retweeting Ramani’s account, another female journalist Shutapa Paul tweeted, “#MeToo #MJAkbar 2010-11 while in @IndiaToday in Kolkata.”

Shutapa, in a detailed thread on Twitter, said Akbar scheduled his meetings with her in hotel rooms, sometimes at odd hours.

“MJ Akbar 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.”
Shutapa Paul

Also Read : Kashmir’s #MeToo Arrives: Women Recount Sexual Abuse, Harassment

KADAMBARI M WADE, TOO, NAMES MJ AKBAR

Another former journalist at Asian Age has named MJ Akbar.

Kadambari M Wade took to Twitter to say, back in 1998, when she was working as a sports reporter, Akbar made her feel ‘awkward’.

Narrating one such incident, she said Akbar would always look at her ‘chest’ while talking to her, so one day, she confronted him about it and after that – as Wade recalls – Akbar and she never spoke.

KANIKA GAHLAUT: 1995-1997

Speaking to The Indian Express, freelance journalist Kanika Gahlaut said she worked with Akbar from 1995 to 1997 and Akbar’s behaviour towards everyone was inappropriate.

Describing an incident, Gahlaut told the daily that she was invited to a hotel room once by Akbar, to which she agreed but never showed up. She also said she gave him an excuse, and he never bothered her and she continued to work.

Gahlaut added that Akbar “wouldn’t push” once he was told “no”. She also mentions that she was “always given her due” and that she “learnt a lot from him”.

SUPARNA SHARMA CALLS OUT AKBAR

Currently the Resident Editor of The Asian Age, Suparna Sharma has also accused Akbar of harassing her, reported The Indian Express.

Speaking to the daily, Sharma said she became a part of the team from 1993 to 1996, and was reporting to Akbar. She said she was working on the first page of the newspaper and Akbar was standing behind her.

“He plucked my bra strap and said something which I don’t remember now. I screamed at him,” Sharma told the daily.

In another incident, Sharma said she once went to Akbar’s cabin at work and he kept staring at her breast and said something that she ignored.

Sharma says that these incidents were routine and there were “no committees one could go to”.

SABA NAQVI’S ACCOUNT OF HARASSEMENT

In an article on DailyO, senior journalist Saba Naqvi has written about the harassment she faced at her workplace by a certain editor who shares his name with a “Grand Mughal Emperor”.

Though Naqvi doesn’t name anyone, she goes on to narrate a few incidents that she faced in office with this person she describes as a “predator” who later became a senior politician.

But as Saba Naqvi tweeted out her account, journalists Priya Ramani and Suhasini Haider called out MJ Akbar.

Naqvi clarifies that the man never laid a hand on her, but what he did was nothing short of harassment.

SWATI GAUTAM’S ENCOUNTER WITH AKBAR

Entreprenuer Swati gautam, in an blog for The Quint, detailed her experience with Akbar, dating back to her college days as a “naive convenor” of a college debating event.

Buoyant with hopes of inviting Akbar, Gautam was asked to meet him at Calcutta airport. On the ride to the hotel , she alleges that they spoke of everything but the debate.

Once at the hotel, she was asked to wait down in the lobby while he freshened up. Minutes later, Gautam was summoned to his room. Once she arrived at his room, she was greeted by ‘Mr Bathrobe’, recounts Gautam.

“Mr Bathrobe was on the bed while I was kind of squirming on the single sofa in the room, unable to exactly fathom what in hell was the matter with the world which seemed perfectly normal sometime back.” 

Akbar allegedly verbally prompted her to make a drink, by rolling the glass in his hand to her feet. Initally shocked, Gautam rolled the glass back to Akbar and walked out of the room.

“YOU GOT UP, GRABBED ME AND KISSED ME HARD”: TUSHITA PATEL

Tushita Patel, a journalist, accused MJ Akbar of sexually harassing her multiple times in the 1990s. Patel called out Akbar in an article she wrote for Scroll and narrated he experiences with Akbar.

“When I reached your room, you were sullen, sitting there drinking tea and in a vile mood. You started yelling at me about being late, about my work. I was trying to mumble some words. Suddenly you got up, grabbed me and kissed me hard – your stale tea breath and your bristly moustache are still etched in the recesses of my memory. ” she wrote in the article.

“When you couldn’t find me, you desperately sent out a search party. At some point, someone found me. Akbar saab is looking for you. Heavy with dread, I waited till it was almost time for your flight and met you at the most public of areas in the office – near the reception. You said chirpily, “Where did you disappear? I’ve been looking for you – we have to discuss your page.” And with that you ushered me into the empty conference room, grabbed me again and kissed me,” she wrote while narrating another instance.

“HE BETRAYED MY TRUST, AND THAT OF MY PARENTS”: MAJLIE DE PUY KAMP

In an account to HuffPost India, UK journalist Majile de Puy Kamp recounts her encounter with Akbar, dating back to 2007, when she interned at The Asian Age in her gap year. All of 18, de Puy Kamp’s duties at the newspaper involved getting Akbar to chose the lead photograph for the next day.

On the last day of the internship, she went to Akbar’s office to show him the photographs. When she thanked him for the opportunity to intern at the newspaper, Akbar reportedly got up and walked around the desk, grabbed her under her arms and forcibly kissed her on the mouth.

“What he did was disgusting, he violated my boundaries, betrayed my trust and that of my parents.”
de Puy Kamp to HuffPost India

de Puy Kamp had reportedly met Akbar through her parents, who had worked as foreign correspondents in Delhi in the 1980s.

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