Tharoor on #MeToo, MJ Akbar: We Can’t Tolerate Sexual Harassment

“In the M J Akbar case, I’m not going to be giving a free pass to the government.”

3 min read

Former union minister M J Akbar has recorded his statement in defamation case against Priya Ramani at the Patiala House Court today. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor recently lauded the courage of women, including Ramani, outing their harassers as #MeToo movement gathered momentum. The Quint spoke to Tharoor on how his own party could be seen dragging its feet when allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against NSUI president Fairoz Khan.

The following excerpt is part of a longer interview:

What are your thoughts on the momentum that the #MeToo movement is gathering in India?

I’ve always felt that assaulting a woman is the single worst thing any man can do under any excuse. It can be a friend, a wife, a child. It’s just inexcusable. And I think that within sexual assaults it compounds the problems. I find that what is striking about #MeToo is not just the creepy sexual behaviour. It is also, and particularly, the exploitation of differential power equations. Between say, a director/producer and an actress, between an editor and a reporter, between an employer and an employee. Those are the kinds of situations that we simply cannot tolerate.


As a former union minister, what are your thoughts on the allegations levelled against M J Akbar, a sitting union minister?

Because the govt is a public trust, I’d say that if any of us has misbehaved in any way with someone working under us or coming to us for whatever course of our professional work, then we certainly need to take strong action. (In) one case that involves a government minister, there was, in fact, a certain defiance at one stage.

But some ministers, especially women, did call Akbar out, right?

The ministers who, as you say, raised the question publicly, were careful to couch their words. I think one of them said, “He should speak for himself.” “The gentleman concerned should address the issue.” Or something like that. She didn’t say that he should be accountable or he should step down or whatever. And initially, I think, the attitude in the government and the ruling party actually emboldened the individual in question, until his defiance prompted a larger number of people to come out. And then the momentum became irresistible. So, I’m not going to be giving a free pass to the government.

Can the Congress party take a moral high ground given M J Akbar was amongst its own till he join the BJP? And what about the recent allegations against NSUI president Fairoz Khan? Did the party not drag its feet there?

He (Fairoz) was removed. I think no one would object to due process. Especially when the persons concerned are themselves fairly young. This is not a hugely super powerful person. Of course, within the NSUI he had certain clout. And it’s quite possible that if there are other such cases that come to the forefront involving political party workers, the process will move faster because we now have the experience of ‘first ever’.

You know, many political parties did not have a Vishakha Committee. And I think ours was the first to establish one for this case.

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