New Delhi: Responding to the sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by several women in the past few days, Union Minister M J Akbar on Monday filed a private criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani.
In the defamation case filed through his advocates Karanjawala & Co. at Delhi’s Patiala House Court, Akbar accused Ramani of “wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously” defaming him and sought her prosecution under the penal provision on defamation.
Even as Akbar approached the court with the defamation suit, his accuser said she would not be cowed by the intimidation tactics. “By instituting a case of criminal defamation against me, Akbar has made his stand clear: rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment,” Ramani said.
“Needless to say, I am ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence,” she added.
Ramani, in a tweet on October 8, had revealed that a 2017 article she had written was about M J Akbar. In her article, she had alleged that a senior editor had interviewed her for a job in a hotel room and had made her feel uncomfortable. However, she had not named Akbar in her article then.
Following Ramani allegations earlier this month, multiple women have come out in the last few days with accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Akbar when he was a journalist as the #MeToo movement swept social media, bringing to the fore sordid tales of sexual harassment by influential men in different walks of life.
In his first statement on Sunday after returning from Nigeria, Akbar responded to the demands for his resignation by terming the accusations against him “false, fabricated and deeply distressing”. Alleging political vendetta, he had also questioned the timing of the allegations saying why the storm had come months before the general elections.
On Monday, he was back at work, attending meetings at the Ministry of External Affairs.
Ghazala Wahab, who wrote a graphic account of her alleged prolonged harassment at the hands of Akbar, wrote in The Wire that his statement was “rambling” and “full of tired cliches”. The #MeTooIndia handle tweeted that Akbar’s defence team has 97 lawyers against Ramani.
Several people, including lawyers, rallied around Ramani, offering help in meeting her legal expenses and some appealed on social media for crowdfunding.
Chorus For Akbar’s Resignation Continues to Grow Louder
The pressure for Akbar’s resignation continued to build up throughout the day. Several media bodies on Monday demanded an “impartial probe” into all allegations against Akbar and said he should step down from his post till such an investigation is completed.
Women’s rights activist Vani Subramanian told PTI she was not surprised by Akbar moving court as “such people tend to react in this way when their power and entitlement is challenged”. “He is not the first man to not accept his mistake and unfortunately he wouldn’t be the last man to not admit his mistakes,” she said.
In a joint statement, journalist organisations Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association and South Asian Women in Media asked for an impartial probe into all the complaints without “fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants”.
“We also feel that in the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it is only proper and appropriate that the minister step down from his post till as such time the probe is completed,” it said.
PM Should Clarify if he Backs Women Journalists or Akbar’s Defamation Case: Congress
The Congress asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify whether he stood with the women journalists who have accused M J Akbar of sexual harassment or he backed the defamation case filed by the Union minister.
Congress spokesperson R P N Singh said it is “extremely unfortunate” that the Prime Minister was silent as it was his duty to stand up for the rights of the women of the country and speak up and clarify his stand on the issue.
“We want to ask the Prime Minister as to what are his thoughts on this issue and what he has to say on the affected women. We ask the Prime Minister today, that he has to speak up. Where does he stand on these matters?” he asked.
“We would like to ask the Prime Minister on which side does he stand? These are 14 women who have come out and with the harrowing experiences that they have gone through,” he said.