Journalist Ghazala Wahab told a Delhi court on Tuesday that she was sexually harassed by former Union Minister M J Akbar in 1997 and it left her “numbed with fear and shock”.
Wahab was the third defence witness who appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja in support of journalist Priya Ramani in a criminal defamation complaint filed by Akbar.
Her examination-in-chief was completed on Tuesday and her cross-examination will be conducted by Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra on Wednesday.
Akbar had to resign after Ramani levelled allegations of sexual misconduct on Twitter, following which he filed a defamation lawsuit against her.
Wahab told the court, “My desk was right outside Akbar’s office in a manner that if his door was slightly open he could watch me. Many a times I saw him watching me… Later he started sending me private messages on Asian Age’s intranet messaging service about my clothes and appearances.”
“Sometime in August-September 1997, in the afternoon, Mr Akbar called me to his room. When I went inside he asked me to shut the door. Then he asked me to look up a word in the dictionary which was placed on a low three-legged stool across his desk… As I squatted to look into the dictionary Mr Akbar came up behind me quietly and held me by waist. I was shocked and stumbled almost losing my balance. Mr Akbar helped me to my feet and ran his hands from my breast to my hips. I tried to push his hands away but they were firmly planted on my waist. I was numbed with fear and shock, not only was the door shut his back was blocking it… Finally he released me and I ran out his office into the toilet to cry,” Wahab told the court.
She told the court that the next day, Akbar asked her to come into his room and when she entered, he shut the door trapping her between the door and his body. “I immediately flinched. He held me by my shoulders and bent to kiss me. I clamped my mouth and turned my face to one side. I was speechless with fear but I continued to push against him. Finally, he released me. I ran out of the office crying.”
She said she narrated the incident to Seema Mustafa, who was the bureau chief then. She told the court that Seema was not surprised at Akbar’s behaviour but there was little she could do about it and told Wahab that it was entirely her call on what she decided to do. “I was 26, I was alone, confused, helpless and most importantly petrified. Asian Age had no mechanism to listen to complaints of sexual harassment. There were no internal redressal mechanisms, no sexual harassment policy or committee that would hear complaints from women journalists. I was on my own,” Wahab told the court.
“Not only was Akbar Editor-in-Chief of Asian Age, he had also been an MP and a former spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. I believed that going public about my complaint or even thinking about the police was not an option given Akbar’s power and clout,” Wahab told the court.
“Sometime in the second week of December 1997, Mr Akbar told me he wanted me to shift to the about- to-be-launched edition of the Asian Age from Ahmedabad as Features Editor. He told me that I would be given an apartment there and everything would be taken care of by the company. He added that whenever he would come to Ahmedabad he would stay with me. That was the tipping point,” Wahab told the court.