Minutes after Minister of State (External Affairs) M J Akbar resigned Wednesday over allegations of sexual harassment and assault, journalist Priya Ramani, who was the first to name him publicly, tweeted: “As women, we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look
forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #metoo.” On Monday, Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint in a Delhi court against Ramani. She was the first to name him in a Twitter post October 8. Thereafter, over a dozen women, who had also worked with Akbar when he edited the The Asian Age newspaper in the 1990s, accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John told The Indian Express that Akbar’s resignation is unlikely to have any impact on the defamation case — it is to come up in court Thursday — as it is up for “cognizance” and “nothing will happen tomorrow”. But John said now that Akbar has resigned, she does not know “how interested he will be in fast-forwarding the case”. She said while Akbar was a minister “he might have wanted to fast-forward it” but she wasn’t sure “how interested he will be in fast-forwarding the case now”. She said it is “his call” and she couldn’t answer that.
“As far as the multiple women who have complained… it was pretty apparent that they were not backing down, they were not getting intimidated by any kind of defamation slapsuit that was being filed against them”. She said Akbar’s resignation “is more in the nature of taking moral responsibility” while the case in court “will proceed on a different plane altogether”.
Asked if the 12 women journalists, who issued a statement Tuesday urging the court to also consider their testimonies, would be called as witnesses, John said “that stage is much later” and she is not even sure if the court will summon them. “Let that stage come,” she said. “Right now, it’s between him and the court. If, as and when, we are summoned, our strategy will become crystal clear then. But before that, he has to first establish that he has a prima facie case, so the onus is on him, not on us.”
Tushita Patel, who a day earlier wrote about incidents when Akbar allegedly harassed and assaulted her, told The Indian Express: “In light of everything that has come out, and perhaps what has not come out, he should drop the criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani immediately.”
Suparna Sharma, Resident Editor of The Asian Age who had alleged that he “once he plucked her bra strap” and “stared at her breasts”, said of his resignation: “It is, of course, a big moment not just for the women who spoke up against him, but for the #MeToo movement as well.”
“M J Akbar should have resigned himself or he should have been asked to step down the day he returned from Nigeria. An inquiry should also have been ordered into the allegations and his conduct. Fact is, that since he didn’t resign, more and more women spoke about their experiences with him, and the pressure kept mounting. I believe he has done this because of the pressure. What I’m happy about is that on the surface at least, it’s no longer Priya Ramani vs Union of India. It’s now M J Akbar vs Priya Ramani. I, and many others, stand with Ramani. And, the longer the court case goes, the longer will the list of #MeToo-MJ Akbar get.”
Reacting to his resignation, Force magazine editor Ghazala Wahab, who alleged that Akbar assaulted her in the autumn of 1997 when she worked at The Asian Age, said: “I am very, very happy and relieved. From the low of Sunday when he denied all allegations to the high of today when he has resigned, it has been a roller-coaster ride. We felt let down on Sunday, but today there is a feeling of euphoria. My full support to Ramani, and I will go to court if called as a witness.”
Calling his resignation “long overdue,” Shuma Raha, journalist, author and one of the women who alleged that Akbar behaved inappropriately with her, said, “After more than 20 women came forward with charges of sexual misconduct against him, his continuing as a Minister was untenable.”
Freelance journalist Kanika Gahlaut, who had earlier detailed her experience of Akbar “following her around a desk in an office room”, said, “I welcome Mr Akbar’s move to finally do the right thing and step down pending due process of law. Meanwhile, let this also be a strong and clear message to patriarchy, not just in newsrooms but across workplaces in the country. They must introspect on the continued oppression of women and violations of their Constitutional rights and dignity and ensure a safe and gender bias-free environment that allow women full and free chance to reach their potential.”