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Action sought against MJ Akbar after three journalists accuse him of sexual harassment

Tuesday October 9, 2018 10:00 PM, News Network

MJ Akbar in Sexual Harassment Scandal

New Delhi: Action is being sough against Union Minister MJ Akbar after three female journalists accused the former editor - infamous in political circles as being a turncoat, of sexual harassement. Union Minister Sushma Swaraj however debunked the plea and walked away without a reply.

In a video clip posted on Twitter by journalist Smita Sharma asked Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj a pointed question about the allegations of sexual harassment by three female scribes against Akbar.

“Ma’am, there are serious allegations levelled against MJ Akbar. These are sexual harassment allegations. You are the woman minister in-charge. Will there be at least an internal probe?” Smita can be heard in the video asking Sushma Swaraj, MJ Akbar's boss.

Swaraj however evaded the question and kept walking down the stairs.

"To my pointed question on if an internal probe will happen on #SexualHarassment allegations against @mjakbar , EAM @SushmaSwaraj refuses to comment. Still waiting for a ministry statement @thetribunechd @MEAIndia #MeToo", Smita Sharma wrote on Twitter, tagging the video clip.

Smita's poser to Sushma Swaraj was in response to the allegations by journalists Priya Ramani, Shuma Raha and an anonymous journalist accused MJ AKbar of sexual harassment during job interviews.

“I must clarify, however, that he didn’t actually “do” anything. But the whole experience of an interview sitting on a bed in a hotel room followed by an invitation to come over for a drink that evening, was rattling and deeply uncomfortable", Shuma Raha wrote on Twitter sharing her experience of being interviewed for a job in Asian Age by Akbar in 1995 at Kolkata’s Taj Bengal Hotel.

Shuma's Twitter post came after, Priya Ramani shared the link of her blog posted in October last year, amidst India’s own #MeToo campaign started by actor Tanushree Dutta.

“It was more date, less interview. You offered me a drink from the mini bar (I refused, you drank vodka), we sat on a small table for two that overlooked the Queen’s Necklace (how romantic!) and you sang me old Hindi songs after inquiring after my musical preferences. You thought you were irresistible", Priya wrote in her blog published on Vogue.

“The bed, a scary interview accompaniment, was already turned down for the night. Come sit here, you said at one point, gesturing to a tiny space near you. I’m fine, I replied with a strained smile. I escaped that night, you hired me, I worked for you for many months even though I swore I would never be in a room alone with you again", she added.

Sharing the link of her blog on Tuesday , Priya wrote, “I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator - maybe they’ll share.”

An anonymous journalist writing in First Post recounted her own horror story of being in the same room with her editor, who was notorious for sexually assaulting her juniors. Without naming Akbar she narrated an incident when she was invited by her editor-in-chief at a Mumbai hotel. After reaching the hotel, she was invited in the editor’s room, where he asked her to fetch ice-cubes from the mini bar. As she got up picking ice cubes, she found her boss standing right next to her.

“By the time I stood up, he was right behind me, uncomfortably close. I started to give him the ice bucket but he simply took a cube of ice and traced it down my arm", she wrote.

“I froze. My mind rushed with so many possible exit strategies, but my feet didn’t move and my parched throat didn’t let out a sound. Because I neither pushed his hand away nor did I start to leave the room, he forced his face against mine, slobbering over my lips most disgustingly. A wave of repulsion swept through me and I thought I could taste my own bile in my mouth. My hand suddenly lost grip of the ice box and it fell on his feet", she wrote.

MJ Akbar started his political career with the Congress party and was once very close to the top leadership of the Congress. He later switched to BJP which came to power after the 2014 general elections.

Besides Akbar, others who are facing allegations after India’s #MeToo movement is started are AIB’s Utsav, Tanmay Bhatt, Gursimran Khamba, actor Nana Patekar, Rajat Kapoor, Alok Nath, singer Kailash Kher, filmmakers Vikas Bahl and Vivek Agnihotri.

Meanwhile, senior journalist Barkha Dutt wrote on Twitter, "Priya Ramani @priyaramani and other journalists have made grave and credible allegations against #MJAkbar - stories that have been around in the industry for years. The Government of India must order an immediate neutral investigation under court mandated Sexual Harassment Rules."

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