• M J Akbar Must Step Down and Submit to Investigation of Sexual Harassment Charges

    Network of Women in Media, India

    October 16, 2018

    To 

    Hon’ble President of India, 
    Ram Nath Kovind 
    Rashtrapati Bhavan, 
    New Delhi 

    The Prime Minister of India, 
    Narendra Modi 
    Prime Minister’s Office, 
    New Delhi           

    15.10.2018 

    Sub: Defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani by MoS MJ Akbar 

    Respected Sirs, 

    The Network of  Women in Media, India, along with  Foundation for Media Professionals and BrihanMumbai Union of Journalists, stands in solidarity with Priya Ramani and others who have accused former editor and current Union Minister of State MJ Akbar of sexual misconduct, and condemn what we see as a concerted effort to throttle an equal rights movement by using the threat of defamation suits to intimidate women who have gathered the courage to speak up. 

    We express our deep dismay at the allegations of sexual harassment, including assault, levelled by several journalists against Mr Akbar who continues to hold office in the Central Government despite these allegations. 

    The accounts pertain to his years as an editor with leading newspapers and newsmagazines in India, in interacting with women journalists. In several accounts, the journalists have stated that he continued to harass them while they were employed in various positions in the media houses that he headed.

    In addition to Priya Ramani, the journalists include Anju Bharti, Ghazala Wahab, Harinder S. Baweja, Kadambari M. Wade, Kanika Gahlaut, Majlie de Puy Kamp, Malini Bhupta, Prerna S. Bindra, Ruth S. David, Saba Naqvi, Shuma Raha, Shutapa Paul and Suparna Sharma. 

    Mr Akbar has initiated legal action against Ms Ramani. We are extremely concerned that he continues to be a minister in the Union council of ministers even as he pursues whatever legal course of action he plans. You will agree this is highly unethical and improper and would cast a cloud over any investigation of his alleged misdeeds, besides undermining the independence, justice and fair play that any citizen can expect from such proceedings. 

    A criminal defamation charge is a clear attempt to bully, intimidate and silence those who are bringing to light systemic abuse of women by men in powerful positions. It is designed to push women back into silent compliance and will silence the voices of the many who have not yet spoken up. 

    We would like to point out that Section 499 of the IPC, which pertains to defamation, cites exceptions in case of “imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published”. In the case of Mr Akbar, we strongly believe this holds true for a large section of women who may not otherwise find the voice to speak of sexual abuse. 

    In recent years, women have made great strides in various professional fields. In many cases, these women are the first generation from their families to have careers and hold jobs. The Constitution guarantees women the status of equal citizens and the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2013 is designed to protect women from sexual assault, thereby creating safer work spaces for them. 

    The past 10 days have seen an unprecedented wave of public statements by women across sectors about their experiences of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Many women have spoken out at great personal and professional cost. Across media, entertainment and corporate houses, those accused of sexual harassment are being asked to step down or submit to an enquiry as per law. By ignoring this defining moment, and watching silently while a government minister sues a woman who has spoken out, your government is giving a regressive message: that the fundamental right to life, safety and dignity of a sizeable section of the workforce does not matter. It’s an attempt to thwart democracy. 

    We demand that: 
     

    • MJ Akbar submit to an independent investigation. 
    • The Ministry of External Affairs ask Mr Akbar to step down from office pending investigation. 
    • The case against Ms Ramani be dropped by Mr Akbar. 
    • All support be extended by the government to women in their struggle for justice. 
    • That Ms Sushma Swaraj, Union Minister for External Affairs, take workplace harassment seriously and not encourage intimidatory tactics against women who have complained. 

     

    Network of Women in Media, India
    Foundation of Media Professionals
    BrihanMumbai Union of Journalists
    Abhinandan Sekhri, CEO, Newslandry
    Alex D’souza, Mumbai
    Alka Dhupkar
    Ammu Joseph, Bengaluru
    Amrita Dutta, Associate Editor, The Indian Express
    Amrita Madhukalya
    Angshukanta Chakraborty
    Ankita Anand
    Annie Thomas
    Aparna Karthikeyan, Mumbai
    Aradhna Wai
    Archana Jha
    Chandni Doulatramani
    Chitrangda Chowdhury, Independent Journalist, Bhubhaneshwar
    Dhanya Rajendran
    Disha Shetty
    Divya Rajagopal
    Dushyant, Chief Editor, NewsCentral24X7.com
    Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
    Gita Aravamudan, Bengaluru
    Gita Bakshi
    Inder Jain, General Secretary, BrihanMumbai Union of Journalists
    Jairaj Singh
    Jayaditya Gupta, executive editor, ESPN India
    Kajal Iyer, Mumbai
    Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
    Kiran Manral
    Laxmi Murthy, Bengaluru
    Lakshmy Venkiteswaran, Chennai
    Lesley Esteves, Journalist, New Delhi
    MJ Pande, Mumbai
    Madhur Singh, India Correspondent, Bloomberg Law
    Mahesh Rajput, UNI, Chandigarh
    Manisha Pande, Delhi
    Megha Moorthy, Associate Managing Editor, The Asian Age
    Minnie Vaid
    Manoj Mitta, independent journalist and author, Delhi
    Namita Bhandare
    Neeta Kolhatkar, Mumbai
    Neha Dara, Chandigarh
    Neha Dixit, Delhi
    Niloufer Venkatraman
    Padmaja Shaw, Hyderabad
    Prabhat Sharan, Mumbai
    Praveen Donthi, Delhi
    Priyanka Dubey
    Prerna Thakurdesai
    Prema Vishwanathan
    Radhika Ramaseshan New Delhi
    Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Bangalore
    Raghu Karnad
    Rahul Pandita, Delhi
    Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkata
    Raman Kirpal
    Ranjona Banerjee
    Renu Ramanath, Kochi
    Rina Mukherjee, Pune 
    Ritupurna Chatterjee
    Rohini Mohan, independent journalist, Bengaluru
    Rosamma Thomas, Pune
    SN Sinha, President, Indian Journalists Union (IJU), New Delhi
    Sabina Inderjit, Vice President, Indian Journalists Union and International Federation of Journalists
    Sahaya Teresa, Chennai
    Samrat Chakrabarti
    Sandhya Srinivasan, Mumbai
    Sandhya Ravishankar, Independent Author and Journalist, Chennai
    Sanyukta Dharmadhikari
    Satyen K Bordoloi, columnist and scriptwriter, Mumbai
    Shamik Bag, Independent Journalist, Kolkata
    Sharda Ugra
    Shobhan, Mumbai
    Smita Nair
    Smita Ramanathan
    Sukhwant Basra, Chandigarh
    Sumana Mukherjee
    Sunanda Beecha Mehta
    Urvashi Sarkar


     

    First published in NWMI.

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