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Opinion | MeToo campaign hits late but hard: MJ Akbar asked to quit by Modi Govt to avoid social media embarrassment

Akbar's resignation is perhaps the first resignation from the Modi cabinet due to the increasing pressure on social media in favour of the women journalists who levelled charges of sexual allegations against him.

Pratyush Ranjan Written by: Pratyush Ranjan New Delhi Updated on: October 17, 2018 22:53 IST
MJ Akbar resigns
Image Source : PTI

MJ Akbar quit amid mouting pressure on him over sexual harassment allegations. (Photo/PTI)

M J Akbar, 67-year-old journalist-turned-politician who served as minister of state for external affairs in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, resigned on Wednesday. Akbar's resignation came in the face of mounting pressure after series of allegations of sexual harassment against him by several women journalists on social media platforms under #MeToo campaign.

Akbar served as minister for 27 months from July 5, 2016 to October 17, 2018.

Akbar's resignation is perhaps the first resignation from the Modi cabinet due to the increasing pressure on social media in favour of the women journalists who levelled charges of sexual harassment against him.

Akbar decided to quit a day before of hearing of a criminal defamation complaint filed by him against Priya Ramani, a journalist who has accused him of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago.

A day before the court hearing, he decided to fight the case in his personal capacity and not as a Union minister.

In a brief statement, Akbar said he has decided to seek justice in a court of law in his personal capacity.

"I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of MoS for external affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country," Akbar said.

#MeToo campaign on Social Media against Akbar

Journalists from different media platforms have claimed harassment by Akbar under the "#MeToo" social media campaign in series of allegations which Akbar described as false and filed a case against one of the women journalists.

WATCH: 8 women who accused MJ Akbar of sexual harassment

Over the past 10 days, at least 20 women wrote their experiences of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar during his days as editor of several newspapers. 

Later, different women groups on social media as well as opposition parties came out demanding his resignation.

Many journalists from multiple media platforms have also come forward with their stories of harassment against Akbar under the social media campaign '#Metoo'.

Now, Akbar's resignation is being seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement and the protests carried out by them against the journalist-turned-politician.

Some of the women journalists who were vocal against Akbar welcomed his resignation, saying they felt "vindicated". They also indicated that they had a long battle ahead for justice in this matter.

Priya Ramani said she looked forward to the day when she would also get justice in court.

"As women, we feel vindicated by Akbar's resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court," she said.

Suparna Sharma, who also came out against Akbar, said she welcomed his resignation.

"It is a big moment for us. In a sense, I feel vindicated. Though the step should have been taken as soon as he landed in Delhi, but now, at least, there will not be a power imbalance and it will not be a fight between the government and Ramani," the resident editor of The Asian Age newspaper told PTI.

Meenal Baghel, who came out in support of Ramani, said Akbar's decision to quit was long overdue, while author Kiran Manral said they still had a long road ahead for justice.

"It was the right thing to do and we welcome it. it was long overdue," Baghel, editor of Mumbai Mirror, said in response to a question.

"A very big thanks to everyone who backed each of us," she said in a tweet.

Women activists also welcomed the resignation terming it a victory of the #MeToo movement in India. They said that the determination and courage of about the women journalists "belatedly forced" Akbar to step down as minister.

Support for Priya Ramani grows

Around 20 women journalists, who have worked with 'The Asian Age' newspaper, had come out in support of their colleague Priya Ramani. They even issued a joint statement in this regard.

The journalists had urged the court to hear their testimonies against Akbar, claiming that some of them suffered sexual harassment by him and others have been witness to it.

Here is the list of 20 women journalists who supported Priya Ramani and signed the statement, a report in PTI says.

1. Meenal Baghel who worked for Asian Age (1993 to 1996)
2. Manisha Pande (1993-1998)
3. Tushita Patel (1993-2000)
4. Kanika Gahlaut (1995-1998)
5. Suparna Sharma (1993-1996)
6. Ramola Talwar Badam (1994-1995)
7. Hoihnu Hauzel (1999-2000)
8. Aisha Khan (1995-1998)
9. Kushalrani Gulab (1993-1997)
10. Kaniza Gazari (Asian Age 1995-1997)
11. Malavika Banerjee (1995-1998)
12. A T Jayanthi (1995-1996)
13. Hamida Parkar (1996-1999)
14. Jonali Buragohain 
15. Meenakshi Kumar (1996-2000)
16. Sujata Dutta Sachdeva (1999-2000)
17. Reshmi Chakraborty (1996-98)
18. Kiran Manral (1993-96)
19. Sanjari Chatterjee
20. Christina Francis (2005-2011)

Akbar, however, has denied the allegations. He was in Africa when the allegations surfaced against him.

A day after he returned to India, he filed the complaint against Ramani.

"The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad." he said. 

Stating that these allegations have caused irreparable damage to his reputation, the BJP Rajya Sabha MP said, "Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action."

Akbar also questioned the timing of the allegations, and said why has the #MeToo storm risen a few months before the 2019 general elections and wondered if there was an agenda behind it. 

"Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge," he said. Terming the entire situation as distressing, he said.

"Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped in to a frenzy," he added. 

Akbar's criminal defamation complaint against journalist Priya Ramani is scheduled to come up for hearing on Thursday in the Patiala House court in Delhi.

His lawyer Sandeep Kapur of law firm Karanjawala & Co said that the private criminal defamation case will come up for hearing on Thursday before additional chief metropolitan magistrate Samar Vishal.

WATCH: MJ Akbar resigns from Modi Cabinet over sexual harassment allegations

(The views expressed in the opinion piece above belongs to the author. It doesn't represent the policy of IndiaTV Digital. All quotes used in the article above are taken by the author from PTI copies published on the issue.)

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