Women scribe groups seek Akbar’s dismissal; court to hear defamation case on Thursday

MJ Akbar

New Delhi, Oct 16 : As the court listed the criminal defamation case filed by Union Minister M.J. Akbar against a woman journalist for Thursday, two women journalist bodies sought Akbars removal from the government for the sake of fair and impartial probe.

The Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding dismissal of Akbar, the Minister of State for External Affairs who has been accused by several women journalists of sexual harassment.

“We are extremely concerned that he continues to be a Minister even as he pursues whatever legal action he plans. You will agree that this is highly unethical and improper and will cast a cloud over any investigation,” NWMI said in its letters to the President and the Prime Minister.

It said that all support should be extended by the government to women in their struggle for justice, and that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj should “take workplace harassment seriously and not encourage intimidatory tactics against women who have complained”.

The Indian Women Press Corps (IWPC) on Tuesday wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and National Commission for Women Chairperson (NCW) Rekha Sharma, seeking fair inquiry and dismissal of the Minister.

“We hope that your government will rise to the occasion and institute an impartial and fair inquiry in the interests of gender justice…The continuation of the Minister in his position only sends out the wrong message that the government is apathetic to the serious concerns and the need for a fair and impartial inquiry.”

In the letter to Maneka Gandhi, the IWPC said that it was “dismayed” that despite a “long list of complaints”, no formal inquiry has been instituted into the complaints comprising serious charges of sexual harassment.

“We would like your ministry to take suo motu cognizance of these complaints and come out with recommendations within a time-frame,” it said.

Meanwhile, another woman journalist, Tushita Patel came out with her account of how Akbar allegedly molested her at the workplace in 1993.

“Stop lying about your plywood and glass cabin in the Asian Age. Ghazala Wahab is not the only woman to have been molested in that cabin. There are other victims who you almost broke and destroyed with your lust and power trip,” Patel wrote in a piece on the Scroll.in.

“And enough with the legal intimidation – we can see you in court too,” she added.

Meanwhile, Akbar’s counsel Sandeep Kapur said on Tuesday that the defamation case (against journalist Priya Ramani) will be heard by a magisterial court in the Patiala House court complex on October 18.

Akbar, in his complaint, said that it was apparent that the false narrative against him was being circulated in a motivated manner and for the fulfilment of an agenda.

Ramani’s husband and IndiaSpend Editor Samar Halarnkar in a piece written for Scroll.in said he and his wife had only the “truth” as a weapon against the “vast resources” a Minister can muster.

“This is not M.J. Akbar vs Priya Ramani, this is the Union of India vs Priya Ramani. He has access to a battery of powerful lawyers: There are 97 listed in the legal notice. She has, thus far, one,” Halarnkar said.

Ruing the lack of any “expressions of support” from opposition parties, he wrote: “(It is) because they are all complicit in maintaining the status quo. India’s patriarchy understands what is at stake and will not give in without a bitter fight. If an Akbar is conceded, there are countless others whose careers will be in jeopardy.”

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