In a first-person article in The Washington Post on Thursday, a journalist who now lives in the United States alleged that former Union Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar raped her in 1994 when she worked with him at the Asian Age.
Akbar’s lawyer, Sandeep Kapur, told The Washington Post that Akbar denied the allegations. “My client states that these [incidents and allegations] are false and expressly denied,” he told the paper.
Over the past month, Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by at least 17 women journalists. He has rejected all the allegations and has initiated a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, one of the complainants. On October 17, Akbar resigned from his post as minister.
In her article, Pallavi Gogoi, who is the chief business editor of NPR, wrote that she was 22 when she joined the Asian Age, of which Akbar was the editor-in-chief. “Working in New Delhi under Akbar, we were star-struck,” Gogoi wrote. She said Akbar often shouted at his employees, but she accepted the verbal abuse thinking she was “learning from the best”.
In 1994, Gogoi was made editor of the op-ed page, “a big responsibility at a young age” of 23. Gogoi said she had gone into Akbar’s office to show him a page when he suddenly lunged to kiss her. “I reeled,” Gogoi wrote, adding that she walked out of his office and confided in a friend about the incident.
Gogoi narrated a second incident of sexual assault when she was in Mumbai to help launch a magazine. She said Akbar called her to his hotel room to “see layouts”. “When he again came close to me to kiss me, I fought him and pushed him away,” she said. “He scratched my face as I ran away, tears streaming down.”
Gogoi claimed that when she returned to Delhi, Akbar threatened to sack her from the job if she resisted him again.
The journalist alleged that Akbar later invited her to his hotel room in Jaipur to discuss a story she was working on. When Gogoi went to his hotel room, Gogoi alleged that Akbar ripped off her clothes and raped her. Gogoi said she tried fighting Akbar, but he was physically more powerful. “Instead of reporting him to the police, I was filled with shame,” she wrote. “I didn’t tell anyone about this then...I blamed myself.”
Gogoi said Akbar continued his advances. “He continued to coerce me. For a few months, he continued to defile me sexually, verbally, emotionally,” she alleged.
Gogoi said she covered the 1994 elections in December for which she travelled across Karnataka, away from the Delhi office. After the election, Akbar told Gogoi that he would send her to the United States or the United Kingdom “as a reward”.
Gogoi said she believed the abuse would stop once she moved. “Except the truth was that he was sending me away so I could have no defences and he could prey on me whenever he visited the city where I would be posted,” she wrote.
Gogoi said Akbar hit her and threw things at her when he saw her talking to a male colleague in London. She told two of her friends about the incident. Soon after the incident, Akbar asked her to return to Mumbai, but Gogoi said she quit her job at the Asian Age and moved to New York, where she started working as a reporting assistant at Dow Jones.