I am reading with indignation, but not surprise, about your complete lack of contrition, your lies, your facetious arguments, your lack of sensitivity in your attempt to victim shame and some remarkably stupid statements. If I don’t speak up now, I feel I’ll be complicit in your crimes.
It was 1992, Calcutta. I was a trainee in the Telegraph. You had left journalism for politics and had come to visit Calcutta. A group of my colleagues was going to meet you at your hotel. I was asked if I’d like to meet MJ Akbar. Who didn’t? Sure. I went along. I met you. It was a fun evening. After that day, you found out my home phone number (from someone else) and started calling me incessantly, asking me to come and meet you at your hotel, always under a thin veil of some work-related discussion. After trying to deflect several of your advances, you finally wore me down. Telling myself to not be old-fashioned, I rang your doorbell.
You opened the door dressed only in your underwear. I stood at the door, stricken, scared and awkward. You stood there like the VIP man, amused by my fear. I did go in and carried on blabbering out of fear till you finally put on a bathrobe. What would you say that was? Does greeting a 22-year-old in a state of undress pass your test of morality? Is that not “doing” something? I have visions of you like that. After that it’s a bit hard to imagine you as the minister of external affairs representing India.
‘I wriggled out’
1993, Hyderabad. You were the editor-in-chief of the Deccan Chronicle, I was a senior sub-editor. You came in to town and summoned me to your hotel to discuss my pages. I was late (I had to finish my pages). When I reached your room, you were sullen, sitting there drinking tea and in a vile mood. You started yelling at me about being late, about my work. I was trying to mumble some words. Suddenly you got up, grabbed me and kissed me hard – your stale tea breath and your bristly moustache are still etched in the recesses of my memory. I wriggled out and ran till I reached the road, jumped into an auto rickshaw and started crying. There was comfort in crying in an open auto being driven by a sympathetic stranger.
The next morning I came to the office and tried to hide in a corner and finish my page. The other thing about working for you is that we never had any resources. We were always short-staffed, you always got us to sacrifice our off days for the greater cause of the paper and we loved our jobs above all else and felt it was normal to do this. When you couldn’t find me, you desperately sent out a search party. At some point, someone found me. Akbar saab is looking for you. Heavy with dread, I waited till it was almost time for your flight and met you at the most public of areas in the office – near the reception. You said chirpily, “Where did you disappear? I’ve been looking for you – we have to discuss your page.” And with that you ushered me into the empty conference room, grabbed me again and kissed me.
Defeated, humiliated, blinded by hurt and tears, I stayed in that room till I stopped crying. I waited till you had left the building, went to the bathroom, washed my face and carried on to finish my page.
‘Our time to speak up is now’
So please stop with the lying. Stop lying about your plywood and glass cabin in the Asian Age. Ghazala Wahab is not the only woman to have been molested in that cabin. There are other victims who you almost broke and destroyed with your lust and power trip. They are enraged too, and they will come out.
And enough with the legal intimidation – we can see you in court too. The same sisterhood of solidarity that held our hands through the darkest times of our lives will come out only because you continue to be brazen. We are not confused, conflicted or vulnerable any more. Our time to speak is now – when we don’t have to run to a police station to lodge a complaint before anyone would give us a hearing.
You know who we are. You’ll recognise us when you see us at the barricades.
Show some contrition. Get some help.
Tushita Patel was a part of the team that started the Asian Age. She resigned in 2000.