Twenty former and current employees of The Asian Age on Tuesday asked Delhi’s Patiala House Court, where Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar has filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani for accusing him of sexual harassment, to consider some of their testimonies about their experiences at his hands.
In a statement, the journalists supported Ramani for calling out Akbar’s allegedly predatory behaviour at The Asian Age when he was its editor and proprietor. “What Mr Akbar has demonstrated through his legal actions is his refusal to introspect, acknowledge or atone for his actions that have caused immense pain and indeed harm to many many women over the years,” they said. “He himself, in the meanwhile, continues to enjoy enormous power and privilege as minister and Member of Parliament.”
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”.
In a Vogue India article published last year, 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 last week claimed was 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.
The journalists added that Ramani’s account “lifted the lid on the culture of casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation that Mr Akbar engendered and presided over at The Asian Age”. The signatories are Meenal Baghel, Manisha Pande, Tushita Patel, Kanika Gahlaut, Suparna Sharma, Ramola Talwar Badam, Kaniza Gazari, Malavika Banerjee, AT Jayanthi, Hamida Parkar, Jonali Buragohain, Sanjari Chatterjee Meenakshi Kumar, Sujata Dutta Sachdeva, Hoihnu Hauzel, Reshmi Chakraborty, Kushalrani Gulab, Aisha Khan and Kiran Manral.
In addition to Ramani, 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. Five of a dozen women journalists who have accused Akbar have said they stand by their allegations even after he threatened legal action.
Here’s the full statement issued by the journalists:
Minister MJ Akbar has filed a criminal defamation case against our former colleague Priya Ramani for calling out his predatory behaviour towards the young women he employed at The Asian Age when he was its editor and proprietor.
This, despite the powerful testimonies of several other women who have stepped forward to speak out against his sexual misconduct.
What Mr. Akbar has demonstrated through his legal actions is his refusal to introspect, acknowledge or atone for his actions that have caused immense pain and indeed harm to many many women over the years. He himself, in the meanwhile, continues to enjoy enormous power and privilege as minister and Member of Parliament.
When Ms. Ramani spoke out against him in public, she spoke not only about her personal experience but also lifted the lid on the culture of casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation that Mr. Akbar engendered and presided over at The Asian Age.
Ms. Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment.
1) Meenal Baghel (Asian Age 1993-1996)
2) Manisha Pande (Asian Age 1993-1998)
3) Tushita Patel (Asian Age 1993-2000)
4) Kanika Gahlaut (Asian Age 1995-1998)
5) Suparna Sharma (Asian Age 1993-1996)
6) Ramola Talwar Badam (Asian Age 1994-1995)
7) Kaniza Gazari (Asian Age 1995-1997)
8) Malavika Banerjee (Asian Age 1995-1998)
9) A.T. Jayanthi (Asian Age 1995-1996)
10) Hamida Parkar (Asian Age 1996-1999)
11) Jonali Buragohain (Asian Age)
12) Sanjari Chatterjee (Asian Age)
13) Meenakshi Kumar (Asian Age 1996-2000)
14) Sujata Dutta Sachdeva (Asian Age 1999-2000)
15) Hoihnu Hauzel (Asian Age 1999-2000)
16) Reshmi Chakraborty (Asian Age Mumbai staff 1996-1998)
17) Kushalrani Gulab (Asian age 1993-1997)
18) Aisha Khan (Asian Age 1995-1998)
19) Kiran Manral (Asian Age 1993-1996)
20) Christina Francis (Deccan Chronicle, 2004-2011)