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The women who brought down M J Akbar

October 17, 2018 20:00 IST
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On Wednesday, Minister of State (External Affairs) M J Akbar resigned from his post after facing a flurry of allegations of sexual harassment by women journalists.

As the women journalists ‘feel vindicated’ following his resignation, here’s a list of the women who came forward and shared their ordeal.

Photograph: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters


>> Priya Ramani

Akbar was first accused by journalist Priya Ramani, who had written about him in an article she wrote for Vogue (external link) a year ago without mentioning his name.

As the #MeToo movement began to gain momentum, Priya now made it clear that the article was about Akbar’s misconducts.

In the article, she recounts how Akbar interviewed her in a hotel, offered her a drink (which she refused), asked her to sit next to him on the bed and even sang her romantic Hindi songs.

>> Ghazala Wahab

Wahab’s account was one of the most detailed and horrifying accounts which have come out since the #MeToo movement came to Indian shores.

In The Wire (external link), she writes about her time as an intern at the Asian Age. Elaborating, she writes, “His eyes fell on me. And my nightmare began. My desk was shifted to just outside his cabin, perpendicularly opposite his desk, so that if the door to his room was left slightly open, I was face to face with him. He would sit at his desk and watch me all the time, often sending me lewd messages on the Asian Age intranet network. Thereafter, emboldened by my obvious helplessness, he started calling me into his cabin (the door to which he would always shut) for conversation, most of which was personal in nature.”

Recounting her ordeal, she speaks of the incident where she was ordered by Akbar to pull out the dictionary for him. “Once, in autumn of 1997, while I was half-squatting over the dictionary, he sneaked up behind me and held me by my 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.”

>> Prerna Singh Bindra

A writer and conservationist also voiced her ordeal on Twitter against Akbar. Describing her account she writes, “He was this brilliant, flamboyant editor who dabbled in politics, who called me — my first job — to his hotel room to 'discuss work' after I put the edition to bed -- read midnight -- and made life at work hell when I refused. Couldn’t speak up due to various compulsions, but yes #MeTooIndia. It was #MJAkbar I do not say this lightly… I know the consequences of false accusations and it has been now 17 years and I have no concrete proof.”

>> Shutapa Paul

Speaking of her time in India Today with Akbar, Paul writes on Twitter about his repeated invitations to his hotel room.

“#MJAkbar 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 & the committed relationship I was in at that time.”

She wrote that after rejecting his advances multiple times, she “became completely invisible in the organisation”. “From a reporter who was doing impactful stories, I was relegated to being a nobody,” she said, adding that she was left with no choice but to quit India Today.

>> Saba Naqvi

The writer and journalist in a report on DailyO  (external link), recounted her experience with Akbar at her first job with the Ananda Bazar Patrika in the 1980s in Kolkata.

She mentions the time Akbar landed up at her home and also of the incident when he transferred her then boyfriend (later her daughter’s father) from being a sub-editor on the Kolkata desk to a reporter in Darjeeling.

Naqvi wrote, “In my list of editors, he is the worst I ever encountered... I sensed a danger and was someone who got away.”

>> Ruth David

United Kingdom-based journalist with Bloomberg Ruth David, who had worked with Akbar in 1999 at The Asian Age, recounted in a blog how he had “sexually harassed her as a teenage trainee in his newsroom”.

In a blog, she outlines how Akbar stood behind and offered massages and would try to kiss her. “Akbar tried to kiss me against my will,” Ruth wrote.

>> Majlie de Puy Kamp 

United States-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp also came forward to accuse Akbar of sexual harassment.

The CNN scribe says she was sexually harassed by Akbar in 2007 when she was an 18-year-old intern.

Kamp was interning at the Asian Age newspaper under Akbar. The incident happened on the last day of her internship when she went to Akbar to thank him for the opportunity.

She said that as she extended her hand for gratitude Akbar “grabbed her right under (her) shoulders, on (her) arms. (He) pulled me in and kissed me on my mouth and forced his tongue into my mouth, and I just stood there,” she said.

>> Shuma Raha

Responding to Ramani’s tweet, Raha shared her ordeal too.

She said that she, too, had an encounter with Akbar after he invited her to a hotel room for an interview.

>> Kanika Gahlaut

Journalist Kanika Gahlaut, who worked with Akbar between 1995 and 1997, says she was forewarned of his “glad eye” and that he “did it to everyone”.

>> Suparna Sharma

Suparna Sharma, currently the Resident Editor of The Asian Age, Delhi, was in her early 20s, she said, when she became a part of the launch team of the newspaper where she worked from 1993 to 1996.

She reported to Akbar.

One day, she told The Indian Express (external link), that she was making the page one of the paper, Akbar was “standing behind” her. “He plucked my bra strap and said something which I don’t remember now. I screamed at him,” recalled Sharma. 

She also recalled an incident in which she once went to Akbar’s cabin at the office, he kept staring at her chest breast and said something she ignored.

>> Kadambari Wade

A former journalist at The Asian Age, Wade took to Twitter to recount her ordeal in 1998 while working as a sport reporter at the newspaper with Akbar in charge.

In a thread of seven tweets, she highlighted how Akbar would always look at her chest while talking to her. “Sir, I’d much prefer if you’d look at my face instead of my chest when you’re talking to me,” she said she told him.

She also says that she complained about Akbar to her sports editor but he laughed it off and said “that’s just Akbar, don’t worry.”

>> Harinder Baweja

Baweja was the first to react to Ramani’s tweet saying, “So many of us have an MJ story.”

In the same tweet she wrote about Akbar’s tactic of asking journalists if he could come over to their house with a bottle of rum.

>> Anju Bharti

Bharti in a tweet shared how Akbar, during his time at India Today, got drunk at a party hosted by Aroon Purie and “took females in a pool and had ‘fun’. 

>> Malini Bhupta

Bhupta said she was the deputy editor India Today when he used various tactics to “abuse and destroy you professionally, so you grovel”.

She further wrote, "Men like him are vermin... In 2010, I went on leave for three months after verbal abuse and intimidation. I then quit. Petty man wanted to sack me, and then refused to give a release letter.”

>> Tushita Patel

Patel in an article in the (external link) recounts her first meeting with the Union minister when she was a trainee in the Telegraph back in 1992. She writes that Akbar had found out her home phone number and would call her incessantly asking her to meet him.

She writes that after being ‘worn down’, she finally gave in. “You opened the door dressed only in your underwear.

>> Swati Gautam

The businesswoman claimed in an article in The Quint (external link), that she met him in his hotel room dressed only in his bathrobe when she was a student in Kolkata and went to invite him as a guest speaker for an event at St Xavier’s College.

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