For the last few days, in our newsroom, the dominating topic has been a man called MJ Akbar. He is a junior Indian Minister who is part of the external affairs ministry, which means that he gets to represent India globally. In fact, the whole of last week, he was in Nigeria, while in India, close to 14 women accused him of sexually harassing them.
All of these women are journalists. In fact, this man was quite a famous journalist himself before he entered politics. And he harassed all of these women in the capacity of an editor several years ago. Some cases are as old as two decades .
One journalist wrote how the Delhi office in which he used to work in the 90s was referred to as “Akbar’s Harem”. This man basically is the sleazy boss who likes to get his hands wherever he can.
He took advantage of young aspiring women journalists and violated their trust and space. He obviously also had consensual physical acts with many. But there were many others who didn’t want those advances.
“The next evening, he called me in his cabin. I knocked and entered. He was standing next to the door and before I could react he shut the door, trapping me between his body and the door. I instinctively flinched, but he held me and bent to kiss me. With my mouth clamped shut, I struggled to turn my face to one side. The jostling continued, without much success. I had no space to manoeuvre. Fear had rendered me speechless. As my body was pushing against the door, at some point he let me go. Tear-stricken, I ran out. Out of the office. Out of the Surya Kiran building and into the parking lot. Finding a lonely spot, I sat down on the pavement and cried.” – Ghazala Wahab
That was a small excerpt from an almost heartbreaking account of Ghazala Wahab who worked with him in the 90s. It was her first job and she calls it a nightmare. He sexually harassed until she had no option but to quit. She had even complained about his behaviour but obviously nothing was done.
Heck, it was the 90s India, if you were a woman, you were expected to just shut up about such transgressions. In fact, it seems that we haven’t come too far. Because 14 women, 14 women, I can’t saying it enough, 14 women have confirmed that this man was nothing but a pervert and had done worse things to other women journalists. But the govt is not doing anything about it.
The Indian govt that waxes poetic about gender justice is doing nothing to a sexual predator.
I am just ashamed of what is happening. Especially since I am a journalist myself.