Five women journalists who have accused MJ Akbar of sexually harassing them years ago said they stand by their allegations even after the Union minister dismissed them and threatened legal action against the women, The Indian Express reported on Monday.
On Sunday, Akbar, a veteran journalist and the Union minister of state for external affairs, had called the allegations of misconduct false, fabricated and “spiced up by innuendo and malice”.
Priya Ramani, the first journalist who named Akbar as a perpetrator on October 8, told The Indian Express: “Akbar has decided to brazen it out. There is no conspiracy against Akbar, none of us – unlike him – have any political ambitions. We are speaking up at great cost to our personal and professional lives. The truth is the best defence in any defamation case. I’m not worried.”
Suparna Sharma, a resident editor at The Asian Age, said she stood by her testimony that Akbar once plucked her bra strap, and stared at her breasts on another occasion. She also said she stood by the claim that he did the same with other women in the office. “I am disappointed with Akbar’s response but I am not surprised,” she told The Indian Express. “This is going to be a longish battle, and the next step in many cases is a legal step.” She said she was seeking legal advice.
New York-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp dismissed Akbar’s suggestion that the allegations were part of a political agenda ahead of the 2019 elections. “I am not a citizen, I cannot vote,” she was quoted as saying. “I do not have a political agenda. Plus, I have a paper trail. My father wrote an email to Akbar about the incident to which he responded. I have evidence. I am disappointed but not surprised by his statement. I am, however, very comfortable with my story.” De Puy Kamp has accused Akbar of sexually harassing her while she was an intern at The Asian Age in 2007.
Another accuser, Shutapa Paul, said she will “not be intimidated by my tormentor and cower down”. She said she was shocked and dismayed. “MJ Akbar’s brazen shaming of all of us is evidence of his sense of entitlement and power,” she said. “Our fight is the fight for every woman; a fight for justice, a fight against feeling violated in the workplace and in daily life.”
Freelance journalist Kanika Gahlaut said: “I stand by whatever I said.” Gahlaut, who worked with Akbar from 1995 to 1997 said he “hit on” her and her friend.
Akbar has served as the editor of several newspapers including The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian. He is currently a Bharatiya Janata Party MP in the Rajya Sabha.
In last year’s Vogue India article, Priya Ramani had 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 last week claimed 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, including Shuma Raha, Ghazala Wahab and Shutapa Paul, also accused Akbar of calling women to his hotel rooms for interviews, or making women feel uncomfortable by seeking to be alone with them.