Minister of state for MJ Akbar at his residence in Delhi on Sunday. (Photo:PTI)

As MJ Akbar Brazens Out #MeToo Allegations, Modi Government Stays Mum

Eight days after the first allegation of sexual harassment against MJ Akbar emerged, the junior minister in the Narendra Modi government has decided to go on the offensive.

Not only has Akbar, minister of state for external affairs, refused to step down, he termed the allegations against him “malicious” and filed a defamation suit against Priya Ramani, one of the initial journalists to call him out. Fourteen women—all journalists—have outlined the harassment they have been subjected to by Akbar during his tenure as editor in various publications.

“Truth is the best defense for defamation,” said senior advocate Flavia Agnes, questioning the silence maintained by the Modi government on the issue. She said that the government’s welfare schemes for women would sound hollow if the women who are speaking out aren’t supported. The only statements from the BJP, she said, shy away from taking a stand on the various accounts of the women journalists. “This is a litmus test for the BJP.”

What he (MJ AKbar) is trying to get at the moment is an injunction restraining his name from getting tarnished until the allegations are proven.
Flavia Agnes, Senior Advocate.

Several organisations representing journalists have asked to Akbar step down, while an inquiry into the allegations is conducted. The former editor has also insinuated that there may be political reasons behind the allegations that have come “few months before a general election”.

“To call this a political conspiracy mocks the intelligence of every Indian,” said Congress leader Sanjay Jha, while pointing out that fourteen women have reported similar experiences.

Priya Ramani dubbed the conspiracy theory deeply disappointing.

Noted journalist Suhasini Haidar said this case will be a benchmark of how other cases that are emerging from the #MeToo movement will be dealt with. The fact that a minister refuses to step down in spite of serious allegations against him, Haidar said, serves as a reminder of the challenges that survivors of sexual harassment often face.