On Monday evening, four journalists made allegations of sexual harassment against veteran journalist and Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar.
Ramani’s tweet came in the midst of a series of similar sexual harassment allegations pouring out on social media against men in journalism. In response to her tweet, at least three other women journalists made allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar.
Akbar has been the editor of prominent newspapers like The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian, is a member of the Rajya Sabha from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In last year’s Vogue India article, Ramani described how an acclaimed newspaper editor called her for a job interview to his “plush south Mumbai hotel” when she was 23 and he was 43. The editor – who she now claims was MJ Akbar – did not meet Ramani in the hotel lobby and insisted that she meet him in his room. There, he offered her a drink. Though she refused, he drank vodka himself. She alleges that he went on to sing old Hindi songs to her and at one point, asked her to sit close to him.
Soon after Ramani’s tweet, other journalists also accused Akbar of calling women to his hotel rooms for interviews, or making women feel uncomfortable by seeking to be alone with them.
According to a former journalist who worked under Akbar in the 1990s but asked to remain unidentified, “he would try his luck with anything that moved, but was not particularly vindictive”.
The former journalist has not personally experienced any untoward conduct on the part of Akbar. But the behaviour he was reputed for – his “roving eye” – was considered typical for men in power. “Successful men in power were expected to behave like this; they were widely understood to behave like this, and that was considered just fine and normal,” she said. “I think Akbar is slimy in many ways. There was a clear category of successful male behaviour that he fell within – this was the trouble. People didn’t even realise or think that there is anything wrong with this behaviour.”
Another former employee of a newspaper that Akbar edited in the 1990s alleged that he was known to “try and manipulate young, impressionable women” in his publications. Speaking to Scroll.in on the condition of anonymity, she claimed she did not yet wish to share her personal experience of sexual harassment at the hands of Akbar. But she described the atmosphere in the newsroom.
“The bizarre thing was, they always hired young women at the newspaper,” said the woman. “There were always more young women than men in office, and it used to be called Akbar’s harem. This was the reputation he came with.” She said that Akbar’s behaviour was both an “abuse of power at one level and emotionally destabilising for young persons at another”.
Scroll.in has contacted Akbar for a response to the allegations against him. This report will be updated if he responds.
On Tuesday morning, journalists asked Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj whether the ministry will set up an internal probe to examine the allegations. Swaraj did not respond to the questions and walked away. The ministry has not issued a statement so far. The story will be updated if it does.
Note: The incidents of sexual harassment quoted in this article are sourced from social media. Four of the women journalists have on their social media accounts named MJ Akbar.