M J Akbar Must Step Down and Submit to Investigation of Sexual Harassment Charges
October 16, 2018
Hon’ble President of India,
Ram Nath Kovind
The Prime Minister of India,
Prime Minister’s Office,
Sub: Defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani by MoS MJ Akbar
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
Ammu Joseph, Bengaluru
Amrita Dutta, Associate Editor, The Indian Express
Aparna Karthikeyan, Mumbai
Chitrangda Chowdhury, Independent Journalist, Bhubhaneshwar
Dushyant, Chief Editor, NewsCentral24X7.com
Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
Gita Aravamudan, Bengaluru
Inder Jain, General Secretary, BrihanMumbai Union of Journalists
Jayaditya Gupta, executive editor, ESPN India
Kajal Iyer, Mumbai
Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
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
Manoj Mitta, independent journalist and author, Delhi
Neeta Kolhatkar, Mumbai
Neha Dara, Chandigarh
Neha Dixit, Delhi
Padmaja Shaw, Hyderabad
Prabhat Sharan, Mumbai
Praveen Donthi, Delhi
Radhika Ramaseshan New Delhi
Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Bangalore
Rahul Pandita, Delhi
Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkata
Renu Ramanath, Kochi
Rina Mukherjee, Pune
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
Sandhya Srinivasan, Mumbai
Sandhya Ravishankar, Independent Author and Journalist, Chennai
Satyen K Bordoloi, columnist and scriptwriter, Mumbai
Shamik Bag, Independent Journalist, Kolkata
Sukhwant Basra, Chandigarh
Sunanda Beecha Mehta
First published in NWMI.
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