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People referred to Asian Age Delhi office as MJ Akbar’s harem, More scribes speak up

Wednesday October 10, 2018 10:42 PM, News Network

MJ Akbar Ghazala Wahab

New Delhi: Amid demands of his resignation, more female journalists - some 09 so far, on Wednesday joined India's #MeToo movement and shared with the world their terrifying stories of how they were sexually harassed, and at times tortured, at the hands of MJ Akbar, the editor-turned-politician who is now Minister of State (MoS) External Affairs in Narendra Modi cabinet.

The latest to join the name and shame campaign is Ghazala Wahab, executive editor FORCE newsmagazine and co-author of the book Dragon on our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power.

Ghazala Wahab was an admirer of MJ Akbar. She joined Asian Age in 1994 and considered her lucky and fortunate that she would get a chance to learn from "the best in the business".

"But learning had to wait. First, the illusion had to shatter. Akbar wore his erudition lightly. A little too lightly. He screamed, he swore and he drank in the office. ‘You are too small town-ish,’ a senior colleague rapped me. So, I swallowed my small-townish mentality and for the next two years accepted everything as part of the office culture — Akbar’s flirtation with young sub-editors, his blatant favouritism and his bawdy jokes", Ghazal wrote in an article published by The Wire.

"I heard people refer to the Asian Age Delhi office as Akbar’s harem — there were far too many young women than men", she added.

"And I also frequently heard office gossip about his affairs with sub editors/ reporters or that in every regional office of the Asian Age he had a girlfriend. I shrugged all of it as office culture. I was in the periphery of his attention and remained unaffected", she wrote.

"In my third year at the Asian Age, the office culture hit home. 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", she recalled.

"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. Things like my family background and how I was working and living alone in Delhi against the wishes of my parents", she wrote.

"Sometimes, he would make me sit opposite him while he was supposedly writing his weekly column. The idea was that if he needed to look up a word in the gigantic dictionary placed on a low tripod on the far end of his cabin, he would ask me instead of walking across the room", she wrote.

"The dictionary was placed so low that one needed to either bend down or squat to look up a word, with one’s back towards Akbar. 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", she recalled.

Ghazala wrote accepting the advice of Sanjari Chatterjee, a colleague, she narrated her ordeal to Seema Mustafa, then Asian Age Bureau Chief. To her shock, Seema was not surprised.

"She heard me. She was not surprised. She said that the call was entirely mine; that I should decide what I wanted to do. This was 1997. I was alone, confused, helpless and extremely frightened", Ghazala wrote.

Ghazala shared her story a day after Priya Ramani, Shuma Raha and an anonymous journalist one after the other accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment during job interviews. But Ghazala had on October 06 tweeted, “I wonder when the floodgates will open about @mjakbar.” It was soon after #MeToo Movement started picking up in India after Tanushree Dutta accused actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment.

MJ AKbar is reportedly in Nigeria and is refusing a response on these allegations despite repeated requests by some media houses.

Meanwhile, clamour for MJ Akbar's resignation has become louder. "MJ Akbar should either explain the charges though a statement or personally or should resign. The charges are serious and they should be probed independently," Congress spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy told the media.

Demanding MJ Akbar's resignation as minister, AIMIM Chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi reminding Prime Minister Modi of his Beti Bachao campaign asked him to sack Akbar from the cabinet.

Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and the Editors Guild of India had on Tuesday demanded enquiry against MJ Akbar following the sexual assault allegations.

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