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Minister accused in India’s growing #MeToo storm

Updated October 10, 2018

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India has caught up with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault by powerful men. — Photo/File
India has caught up with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault by powerful men. — Photo/File

NEW DELHI: India’s belated #MeToo movement snowballed on Tuesday after several female journalists accused a minister in Narendra Modi’s government of sexual harassment and a producer alleged she was raped by a veteran Bollywood actor.

Women journalists took to Twitter to allege how M.J. Akbar, a well-known former editor and now a junior foreign minister, conducted job interviews in fancy hotel rooms and made sexual advances when they were starting out in the media.

Priya Ramani, the first journalist to go public with the allegations, identified Akbar as the unnamed editor whose inappropriate behaviour she had written about in an article last year.

Ramani said she was 23 when Akbar called her to a Mumbai hotel room for a job interview around 20 years ago.

Akbar was “an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer”, she said in the article which she reposted on Twitter on Monday.

“You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab and assault. Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay.”

India’s foreign ministry was yet to respond to a request for comment from AFP and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj ignored reporters when asked whether she would investigate the claims.

Akbar, who has edited prominent Indian newspapers such as The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian and is also a member of parliament, was yet to comment.

Another journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she declined a job offer after “the whole experience of an interview sitting on a bed in a hotel room followed by an invitation to come over for a drink.” Journalist Prerna Singh Bindra said Akbar “made life at work hell” when she refused his sexual overtures.

Many women in India have in recent days taken to social media to out sexual predators, emboldening others to come out with their experiences.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2018