Calling M J Akbar’s defamation suit against her a bid to “silence” the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, through “intimidation and harassment”, journalist Priya Ramani said on Monday that she would fight back. “Truth and the absolute truth is my only defence,” she said.
In a statement, Ramani, who was the first to name Akbar, said, “By instituting a case of criminal defamation against me, Mr Akbar has made his stand clear: rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment. Needless to say, I am ready to fight the allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence.” Ramani, who has worked with India Today, The Indian Express and Mint, also said she was “deeply disappointed that a union minister should dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy”.
The past two weeks had seen an “upheaval”, she added, “with several women from different professions, including journalists, making serious allegations of sexual harassment at the workplace and instances of sexual misconduct against various editors, writers, film-makers and others”. “These testimonies have emerged as a consequence of a slow but increasing empowerment of women over the years and a #MeToo movement unfolding across social media in India and across the world.”
Pointing out that the 10 women who have come out against Akbar had related incidents that allegedly occurred while they were working for him, Ramani said the women have spoken “at great risk to their personal and professional lives”. “It is disingenuous to ask why they have spoken now, as we are well aware of the stigma and shame that sexual crimes inflict upon victims,” she said. Instead of casting aspersions on their intent and motives, as Akbar had done on Sunday, “we must reflect on how to improve the workplace for future generations of men and women”.
Akbar’s statement on Sunday, she added, “pays no heed to the trauma and fear of survivors or the courage required to speak truth to power”. Ghazala Wahab, Executive Editor of Force magazine, who had earlier written a detailed account in The Wire alleging Akbar had forcibly kissed her and molested her on several occasions in 1997, also countered Akbar’s Sunday statement. Rejecting Wahab’s charges, Akbar had stated that he had a “very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass” and “others had tables and chairs two feet away”. Akbar had also stated that “it is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day”.
Writing for The Wire on Monday, Wahab said either Akbar was “lying” or “age has caught up with him”. “I would prefer believing the latter, so here is something to refresh his memory.” While Akbar indeed had a small office at The Asian Age to begin with, Wahab wrote, by 1997, the newspaper had moved into a renovated space where he had a “big” room to himself. “His polished wood desk was huge (lined with a row of Ganeshas) and had a small work station attached to it. At his back was polished wood (all gloss) wall-to-wall hutch cabinet with storage at the bottom and book shelves at eye level. On the other end of the room, directly opposite to his desk, was the tripod with the huge dictionary, with thickness of nearly a foot.” In her earlier piece, Wahab had written that Akbar asked her to look up words in the dictionary and molested her once while she was bent over it.
In her piece on Monday, Wahab said that as per the “buzz in office”, Akbar’s new office was “sound-proof”, which was a mark of “how fancy and removed” his room was.
About Akbar’s statement that Ramani and Wahab had “kept working with me even after these alleged incidents”, Wahab said she “did not continue working for him”. “I quit, handing over my resignation to his secretary Rachna Grover.” Contacted by The Indian Express, Wahab said she had “nothing more to add”. Regarding any legal action, she said she was “not doing anything” and was just “waiting”. Continuing its attack on the government over the sexual harassment allegations against Akbar, the Congress on Monday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he supported his minister’s defamation case against Ramani.
“He has to make his stand absolutely clear because we have seen earlier, be it in the case of a BJP MLA being involved in a rape case against a girl in his constituency, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister trying to save him, the Prime Minister has not sacked that MLA. He has not uttered a word about that incident. We saw the kind of horrific incidents that took place in a Bihar shelter home, in the Deoria shelter home, the Prime Minister has not uttered a word,” Congress spokesperson R P N Singh said.
“While our children, daughters, sisters are getting abused and humiliated, and with great courage they step out, the Prime Minister remains silent and comes out with a slogan ‘Beti Padao, Beti Bachao’. Where will our children, where will our young daughters and sisters remain when the Prime Minister has no support, no voice to give them? We ask the PM today, that he has to speak up,” Singh said.