Indian journalist-turned-minister M.J. Akbar denies 'wild' sexual harassment allegations

Roughly a dozen women have alleged that India's junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar sexually harassed them or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour.
Roughly a dozen women have alleged that India's junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar sexually harassed them or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India's junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar has denied sexual harassment allegations made against him by women journalists as the #MeToo movement spreads across the South Asian nation.

Mr M.J. Akbar, a former journalist and author, is the first politician to be named in the flood of accusations of inappropriate behaviour by prominent men in India that began with Bollywood and moved into the media industry.

Multiple women alleged Mr Akbar acted inappropriately decades ago during his time as an editor of several Indian publications.

"These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill," Mr Akbar said in a Twitter statement on Sunday (Oct 14).

The statement further said Mr Akbar would take "appropriate legal action", without giving details.

Calls to Mr Akbar's office and residence went unanswered, as did e-mails to his personal and work accounts.

Mr Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for the External Affairs Ministry, declined to comment because the statement was issued by Mr Akbar in his personal capacity.

Roughly a dozen women, including a Bloomberg journalist based in London, have alleged that Mr Akbar sexually harassed them or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour.

The allegations range from Mr Akbar forcibly kissing young interns and interviewing women in his hotel rooms, to offering to set young female employees up with a job and an apartment where he could visit them.

 
 

Others say he stared at their breasts and touched them without their consent.

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Mr Akbar was under pressure to step down after his return from an official tour to Africa on Sunday morning.

The allegations may hurt the government's reputation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to win the support of women before elections next year.

Opposition leaders as well as ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have expressed solidarity with women who shared their stories of sexual harassment.

The government on Friday said it would establish a committee of senior judges to examine the flood of sexual harassment complaints.

In his statement, Mr Akbar said the timing of these allegations could be related to India's upcoming national election in 2019.

"Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge," he wrote.

Since Mr Akbar released his statement, five of the journalists who made the allegations have said they stood by their comments, according to a report in the Indian Express.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2018, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe