Indian minister MJ Akbar resigns amid sexual assault allegations

A series of allegations of sexual harassment and assault has prompted the resignation of an Indian governmen...

Posted: Oct 19, 2018 9:07 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2018 9:07 AM

A series of allegations of sexual harassment and assault has prompted the resignation of an Indian government minister, the most prominent public figure named in the country's own #MeToo movement.

Facing allegations of groping, assault and harassment from former female colleagues, MJ Akbar, junior minister for foreign affairs, said he had decided to resign and challenge what he labeled "false accusations."

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"Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity," he said.

Akbar, a former influential newspaper editor, left office after initially refusing to step down amid the wave of accusations in recent days.

Over the weekend, Akbar rejected growing calls to step aside, dismissing the allegations as false and vowing to go to the courts to clear his name, which he did Monday, suing the first of his accusers for defamation.

Defamation challenge

Akbar's defamation suit is aimed at journalist Priya Ramani, who named him last week as the subject of an article she had written for Vogue India in 2017.

In it, she describes an experience of workplace harassment during a job interview with an unnamed editor in a Mumbai hotel room.

On October 8, she tweeted to say that the unnamed editor was Akbar, making the first in a series of public allegations against the minister by former colleagues.

His lawsuit argues that Ramani had "willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously" defamed him "on wholly and completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous grounds."

Minutes after news of Akbar's resignation broke, Ramani 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."

#MeToo chorus

India's #MeToo movement appears to have been spurred by allegations late last month by former Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta, who alleged that she had been a victim of assault allegedly at the hands of Nana Patekar, her co-star in a 2008 film.

In a news conference last week, Patekar dismissed the claims, saying, "My lawyers have told me not to speak to the media so I can't say anything. Otherwise, I would have said something in the past four days. This case is 10 years old, what was true then is true today."

In the weeks since Dutta made her allegations, accounts of sexual misconduct have shaken the wider media and entertainment industry.

In one high-profile case, a Bollywood production house has been dissolved following sexual harassment allegations against one of its co-founders.

A leading comedy outfit popular with Indian millennials was also shaken when a comedian it worked with faced harassment allegations.

And in the media industry, allegations of inappropriate behavior saw a prominent Delhi-based political journalist lose his position pending an internal investigation, according to reports.

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