Minister and former editor, MJ Akbar accused of sexual harassment

MJ Akbar
Image Courtesy: MJ Akbar

Ghazala Wahab, the current executive editor of FORCE magazine, has accused Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar of sexual harrassment. Till now ten women have accused Akbar of sexual misconduct.


Wahab’s account is an in-depth first person account. She has shared her experience with The Wire. Shutupa Paul, the Founder-Editor, of NewCrop shared her ordeal at the hands of Akbar.

 

Here are some excerpts from her account in The Wire.

Wahab joined Asian Age as an intern in 1994. “I heard people refer to the Asian Age Delhi office as Akbar’s harem — there were far too many young women than men. And I also frequently heard office gossip about his affairs with sub editors/ reporters or that in every regional office of the Asian Age he had a girlfriend. I shrugged all of it as office culture. I was in the periphery of his attention and remained unaffected.”

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“In my third year at the Asian Age, the office culture hit home….. My desk was shifted to just outside his cabin, perpendicularly opposite his desk……He would sit at his desk and watch me all the time, often sending me lewd messages on the Asian Age intranet network. Thereafter, emboldened by my obvious helplessness, he started calling me into his cabin (the door to which he would always shut)…..The idea was that if he needed to look up a word in the gigantic dictionary placed on a low tripod on the far end of his cabin, he would ask me instead of walking across the room.”

“The dictionary was placed so low that one needed to either bend down or squat to look up a word, with one’s back towards Akbar. Once, in autumn of 1997, while I was half-squatting over the dictionary, he sneaked up behind me and held me by my waist. I stumbled in sheer fright while struggling to get to my feet. He ran his hands from my breast to my hips. I tried pushing his hands away, but they were plastered on my waist, his thumbs rubbing the sides of my breasts.”

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“Not only was the door shut, his back blocked it. In those few moments of terror, all sorts of thoughts ran through my mind. Finally, he released me. All this while, the wily smile never left his face. I ran out of his cabin and into the toilet to cry my eyes out…But my nightmare had just begun.”

“The next evening, he called me in his cabin. I knocked and entered. He was standing next to the door and before I could react he shut the door, trapping me between his body and the door. I instinctively flinched, but he held me and bent to kiss me. With my mouth clamped shut, I struggled to turn my face to one side. The jostling continued, without much success. I had no space to manoeuvre. Fear had rendered me speechless. As my body was pushing against the door, at some point he let me go. Tear-stricken, I ran out. Out of the office. Out of the Surya Kiran building and into the parking lot……A colleague, Sanjari Chatterjee, had followed me into the parking lot. She had seen me run out of his cabin with tears rolling down my face. She sat with me for a while.”

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“Finally, I returned to my desk. I sent him a message on Asian Age’s netware messaging system. I told him how highly I regard him as a writer; how this behaviour ruins that image of his in my mind and how I do not want him to behave like this with me again. He immediately called me in his cabin. I thought that he would apologise. I was wrong. He looked pained at my protests and proceeded to give me a lecture on how I was humiliating him by suggesting that his emotions for me were not genuine.”

“Every time he called me in his cabin, I died a thousand times. I would enter his room, with the door slightly open and with my hand on the door knob. This amused him. Sometimes, he would walk over to the door and put his hand over mine; sometimes he would rub his body against mine; sometimes he would push his tongue against my pursed lips; and every time I would push him away and escape from his room.”

“Then my colleague, who had by now become my guardian angel, devised a ploy. Whenever I was called to his cabin, she would wait a moment and follow me inside on some pretext or the other. She became my safety valve.”

“Having realised that he was not getting his way physically, he employed emotional tactics….. After several sleepless nights…I mustered courage and told him that I was quitting. He lost his balance. He hollered while I cowered in my chair. Then he got all emotional and held me urging me not to leave him. Then it got worse. Akbar told me that he was launching an edition from Ahmedabad and wanted me to shift there……I would be given a house in Ahmedabad and everything would be taken care of by the company. And whenever he came there, he would stay with me….”

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Wahab finally quit and went back to her hometown.

“In the last 21 years, I had put all this behind me. I was determined not to be a victim, and not let one monster’s debauchery ruin my career, even though occasionally I had nightmares. Maybe now the nightmares will stop.”

Soon after, The Wire had written to MJ Akbar on October 9, 2018 seeking his response to the accusations several women had made against him.

Earlier the Congress has demanded the resignation of junior foreign minister MJ Akbar after a journalist accused him of sexual harassment in a tweet on October 8.

“Union minister MJ Akbar should either give a satisfactory answer to the allegations or he should resign. We demand an inquiry into the matter,” Congress lawmaker, Jaipal Reddy told news agency ANI.

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