Union minister Smriti Irani on Thursday said the onus of commenting on the sexual harassment allegations against her Bharatiya Janata Party colleague and minister MJ Akbar lies with the “gentleman concerned”. But she added that the “outpouring of emotion and anger” against sexual misconduct should not be mocked or shamed in any way, ANI reported.
Akbar, a veteran journalist, is now the minister of state for external affairs.
At least eight journalists have so far accused Akbar of sexually harassing them in the past. Until Wednesday, Akbar was leading a 70-member business delegation at a conclave in Nigeria. The Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Samajwadi Party and other parties have demanded a reply from Akbar to the sexual harassment allegations against him, or that he step down from his position.
Irani said she could not comment on the matter as she was not present at the time of the incident. “The gentleman concerned would be better positioned to speak on this issue,” Irani told reporters. “I appreciate that the media is accosting his female colleagues but I think it is for the gentleman concerned to issue a statement because I was personally not present there.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has yet to officially acknowledge the allegations against Akbar. Akbar has not posted anything on social media since the allegations surfaced.
Since October 5, several women have used social media to make allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against various journalists, media professionals and writers.
Other ministers refuse to comment too
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman refused to comment on whether the government will act against Akbar. She told News18 that she is “not the right person to comment on it”. “I can’t speak on it. But, I do support the courage with which many of these women are speaking up because...Speaking out requires courage...I support them for that.”
On Tuesday, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj also evaded a question on the government’s position on Akbar.
Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, on Monday, said she was “very happy” that the #MeToo campaign has encouraged women to talk about the sexual harassment they have faced. “One always remembers the person who molested you and we have written to the Union law ministry that one should be allowed to complain without any time limit,” the minister said. Gandhi cautioned people against using the #MeToo movement to “target people who have offended us in some way” and expressed hope that it does not go out of control.
Union minister Ramdas Athawale said on Thursday: “I think we need to hear his statement too. He is out of India. There should be an investigation, if he is found to be guilty then he should resign.”