Several journalists’ organisations on Monday demanded that an inquiry be conducted into allegations of sexual harassment against Union minister MJ Akbar. A joint statement by the Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association, South Asian Women in Media said Akbar should step down as minister of state for external affairs until an investigation against him is completed.
This comes after Akbar filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani. On Sunday, Akbar said he would consider legal action against the women who have accused him of sexual harassment. After his return from a trip abroad, Akbar had issued a statement in which he called the allegations of misconduct false, fabricated and “spiced up by innuendo and malice”.
Ramani criticised Akbar’s response and said she was ready to fight the defamation allegations with the truth. She said Akbar’s statement “pays no heed to the trauma and fear of survivors or the courage required to speak the truth”. Five of a dozen women journalists who have accused Akbar have said that they stand by their allegations even after he threatened legal action.
The organisations expressed disappointment that Akbar has threatened his accusers with legal action. “Mr Akbar is a senior functionary of the government and his actions should reflect the responsibility that is thus bestowed on him,” the statement read. “There can be no dispute on the need for an impartial probe into all the complaints without fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants – and this acquires particular significance if one of the accused is an influential minister in the government. In the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it would only be appropriate that the minister step down from his post till such time as the inquiry is completed.”
The organisations said they hoped that media houses and the government will treat the complaints of sexual harassment with “the seriousness they deserve” and not treat the incidents as “motivated complaints”.