Now sexual harassment allegations against MJ Akbar, Sushma Swaraj refuses to answer questions


India’s own #MeToo campaign that was started by actor Tanushree Dutta has reached the doorstep of the high and mighty in the world of politics with serious allegations of sexual misconduct being levelled against MJ Akbar, a junior foreign minister in the Narendra Modi government.

Allegations against Akbar, a journalist-turned-politician, were first made in a blog by journalist Priya Ramani in October last year. Writing in Vogue, Ramani had written without naming Akbar called him a ‘talented predator’ while recounting her experience.

She had said how Akbar had invited her to her hotel room for a job interview. Admitting that she was a fan of Akbar’s journalism, Ramani wrote, “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.”

She added, “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.”

Ramani then tweeted sharing the link of her last year’s blog. She 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.”

Another journalist Shuma Raha shared her own experience of being interviewed for a job in Asian Age by Akbar in 1995 at Kolkata’s Taj Bengal hotel. She wrote, “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.”

In another blog on Firstpost, an anonymous journalist 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.

She wrote, “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.

“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.”

Journalist Smita Sharma posted a video of Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Akbar’s boss, refusing to answer a question on allegations against him. In the video, Smita is seen asking, “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?”

Swaraj evaded the question and kept walking down the stairs.

India’s own #MeToo movement has so far affected several big names from media, entertainment industry and politics. Among those facing serious allegations are AIB’s Utsav, Tanmay Bhatt, Gursimran Khamba, actor Nana Patekar, Rajat Kapoor and Alok Nath, singer Kailash Kher and filmmakers Vikas Bahl and Vivek Agnihotri.

On Monday, journalist Prashant Jha had stepped down from his post as the bureau chief of Hindustan Times after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against him.

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