The Indian government has challenged public opinion by supporting MJ Akbar, a high-profile minister of state for foreign affairs, in his refusal to resign over allegations made as part of India’s developing MeToo movement that he sexually harassed young women employees when he was an editor of leading newspapers in the 1980s and 1990s.
M.J.Akbar Akbar, 67, rejected the accusations as “false and fabricated” and today (Oct 15) he filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani, one of more than 10 journalists who have named him for implied sexual and other advances.
Most of those involved were young and he was their editor when the alleged incidents occurred. One has written that he tried to kiss her when she was a teenager and suggested he set her up with an apartment. Another, then a student, said he wore “a bathrobe with nothing underneath while meeting young women in hotel rooms” in the 1980s,
Akbar is one of many men with prominent roles in the film industry, television, the media and elsewhere who have been publicly accused on Twitter over the past two weeks as the #MetooIndia movement, which began last year in the US with Harvey Weinstein, the film personality, have mushroomed in India.
Abuse of women is widespread in India and is rarely discussed, partly because of the shame felt by those who have suffered, and partly because of fear of reprisals, especially at work. The question now is whether the Twitter claims and revelations, many of which have been widely gossiped in the past, will lead to a gradual change of attitudes.
Several of those accused have resigned from their positions in films and the media. Akbar is the first to take legal action. Chetan Bhagat, a prominent author of popular fiction, has rejected charges made against him as “false,” while Suhel Seth, a flamboyant marketing and image building expert, who is frequently on Twitter and television discussion panels, has gone unusually silent and has deleted his Facebook account that tracked his travels and friends.
Seth is an international specialist in damage limitation public relations and it looks as if the government has decided to back Akbar’s almost aggressive response in an attempt to prevent further allegations against other public figures, including politicians (there are rumors concerning one cabinet member). Perhaps significantly, Akbar has hired Karanjawala & Co, a leading law firm run by Raian Karanjawala, who is a close friend of Seth, to represent him. Seth has not replied to emailed request for a comment. It seems there are over 90 lawyers on the case (below).
It is possible that the legal action might deter some women from going public with fresh accusations against these and other men. Ramani however has said “truth and the absolute truth” is her “only defense”.