Union minister MJ Akbar, who has been accused of sexual harassment by 16 women, on Wednesday resigned from his post as the minister of state for external affairs. The minister has rejected all allegations against him. President Ram Nath Kovind accepted his resignation with immediate effect, ANI reported.
On Monday, Akbar had initiated a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, one of the complainants. Twenty former and current employees of The Asian Age, where Akbar once worked, have supported the accusers. Akbar’s resignation comes a day before the defamation case comes up in court.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity,” he said in a statement. “I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of Minister of State for External Affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country.”
On Sunday, Akbar had 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.
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.
In a statement, 20 former and current employees of The Asian Age supported Priya Ramani and others who have called out Akbar’s allegedly predatory behaviour when he was the newspaper’s editor and proprietor. The journalists said 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.