Defamation suits aimed at #MeToo complainants could stall movement

Governance       Union Minister MJ Akbar resigns over sexual harassment charges
       	        The Print Team         17 October 2018

Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar stepped down today following a spate of allegations of sexual harassment during his days as editor of several publications.

On Monday, he filed the case against Priya Ramani - the first female journalist to name him - under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, which relate to criminal defamation.

India's junior foreign minister has announced his resignation following allegations of sexual harassment by a string of women, as the country's fledgling #MeToo movement gathers pace. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and to the External Affairs Minister Smt.

Ramani had recently taken to Twitter to recall a blog she had written in 2017 about her harassment by a senior journalist some 20 years ago, but had not named Akbar in the article.

Even before Akbar's return to New Delhi from Equatorial Guinea on 14 October, highly placed government sources said that he had held extensive telephone consultations with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, at the prime minister's urging. It had termed as "scandalous" the allegations made by Ramani against Akbar and said "very tone and tenor" are ex-facie defamatory and they have not only damaged his goodwill and reputation in his social circle but also affected Akbar's reputation in the community and friends, family and colleagues and caused irreparable loss and tremendous distress.

Mr Akbar is the first minister in the Union government to resign after the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment of women gathered steam in India.

They include Majlie de Puy Kamp, a journalist with CNN in NY, who claimed Akbar kissed her when she was an 18-year-old intern at his newspaper Asian Age in 2007.

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The BJP has tried to fashion itself as a champion of Indian women, arguing that policies to improve sanitation and switch to more efficient cooking fuels have disproportionately benefited them.

Akbar, who returned from an official trip overseas on Sunday, called the allegations "false" and "baseless" and a conspiracy to hurt his reputation.

Since then, more than a dozen men in the media, entertainment, political and art worlds have been accused of offences, ranging from sexual harassment to rape.

Also, no sooner had the news of MJ Akbar's resignation became public, the usual suspects in the India media moved in with lightening speed to credit Modi with his minister's decision to step down.

After Akbar's resignation, Ramani tweeted: "As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation". A senior BJP functionary said Jaitley was picked both because of his legal expertise and his sensitivity to the party's political concerns.

After Ramani, many women shared their "experiences" of being called to Akbar's hotel rooms, sometimes after working hours.


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