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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

MJ Akbar files case against journalist who accused him of sexual harassment

Junior foreign minister MJ Akbar has rejected the allegations as “false and fabricated”.

india Updated: Oct 15, 2018 23:52 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Union minister MJ Akbar
Union minister MJ Akbar (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
         

Union minister MJ Akbar on Monday filed a criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani, the first woman to accuse him of sexual harassment, calling the allegations false and malicious amid widespread demands for his resignation.

The lawsuit claimed Ramani “intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated and salacious” allegations to harm the former editor’s reputation. Ramani is one of at least 10 journalists to have separately accused Akbar of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Reacting to Akbar’s lawsuit, Ramani said in a statement that she is “ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence.”

“Those who have spoken up against Mr Akbar have done so at great risk to their personal and professional lives. At this moment, it is disingenuous to ask why they have spoken now, as we are well aware of the stigma and shame that sexual crimes inflict upon victims,” Ramani said.

“This is why I wish to register my strong protest against Mr Akbar’s most recent statement, which pays no heed to the trauma and fear of survivors or the courage required to speak truth to power,” she added.

Akbar’s plea said: “The accused (Ramani) has made false, derogatory and malicious imputations against the complainant (Akbar)...”

The plea, which is likely to come up for hearing during the week, says the accusations were made “in order to defame him, with the sole ulterior motive of maligning the reputation and political standing of the complainant, in furtherance of her own vested interests and underlying agenda.”

The complaint seeks issuance of notice and prosecution of Ramani under Section 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Union government have not issued any official statement on the issue since the allegations against Akbar surfaced. The Opposition has made repeated calls for the junior foreign minister’s resignation, with the Congress targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being silent on the issue. More than 200 protesters from the youth wing of the party waved placards and chanted slogans outside Akbar’s Delhi home on Monday.

At a rally in Madhya Pradesh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that women were afraid of moving out of their houses across the country. “He (Modi) has place only for industrialists in his heart, not for women, Dalits and farmers. He stays quiet if anything happens to them,” the Congress chief said.

Still, the attempt within the BJP seems to be to characterise Akbar’s action as his own, and also carefully timestamp allegations as dealing with a period when he was not with the party.

A senior member of the BJP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Akbar was well within his rights to take legal action to defend himself. “The allegations made against him are from the time when he was neither a party member not a member of Parliament… If he chooses to take legal recourse, that is his right,” the party functionary said.

Another BJP functionary, who did not wish to be named, said Akbar has already “described the charges as malafide”. “Our party’s stance on women’s safety and empowerment has been manifested over time, but these allegations are not against our MP or minister, but from a time when he was neither.”

They refused to comment on whether the party’s top leadership had spoken to Akbar about the allegations. Another party member, however, said on condition of anonymity: “There is some discomfort [over the issue]…”

The Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association and the South Asian Women in the Media in a joint statement said on Monday they were “deeply disappointed” over the statement issued by Akbar on Sunday in which he sought to pass off the allegations against him, including one by a foreign national who was 18 at the time of the alleged incident, as part of a political conspiracy ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

Demanding his resignation in the “interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety,” the organisations said: “Mr Akbar is a senior functionary of the government and his response should reflect the responsibility that is thus bestowed on him. There can be no dispute about the need for an impartial probe into all the complaints without fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants - and this acquires particular significance if one of the accused is an influential minister in the government.”

Akbar returned from a week-long tour to Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria on Sunday.