‘MJ Akbar wants to silence women through intimidation’: Priya Ramani after Union minister files defamation suit

Journalist Priya Ramani on Monday said by suing her for criminal defamation, Union minister MJ Akbar “has made his stand clear: rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment”.

She released a statement hours after Akbar filed a criminal defamation suit against her, accusing her of “making false and defamatory statements” and of “willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defaming” him on “wholly and completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous grounds”, thereby harming his “goodwill and reputation”.

File image of MJ Akbar. Image courtesy: Facebook

File image of MJ Akbar. Image courtesy: Facebook

Ramani was the first to call Akbar out for sexual harassment. It was in response to her October 2017 article in the Vogue, which she replugged on Twitter on 8 October, that several women spoke up with their own stories of Akbar and his allegedly relentless sexual advances towards them. She had not named Akbar in her article, but revealed his identity in a tweet as the #MeToo movement gained ground in India.

Akbar, on Sunday, had dismissed all allegations of sexual harassment against him as “false, wild and baseless” and said he would be taking “appropriate legal action”. In his statement, he had individually named the women, including Ramani, who had accused him of sexual misconduct when they worked together.

On Monday, Ramani said, “I am deeply disappointed that a Union minister should dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy.” She said this is reference to Akbar questioning why the women who had spoken up against him had brought up the allegations ahead of the general elections.

The journalist said: “At this moment, it is disingenuous to ask why they have spoken now, as we are well aware of the stigma and shame that sexual crimes inflict upon victims. Rather than cast aspersions on the intent and motives of these women, we must reflect on how to improve the workplace for future generations of men and women.”

“This is why I wish to register my strong protest against Mr Akbar’s most recent statement, which pays no heed to the trauma and fear of survivors or the courage required to speak truth to power… Needless to say, I am ready to fight the allegations of defamation laid against me, as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence.”

On the #MeToo movement that has taken over India, she said these testimonies “have emerged as a consequence of a slow but increasing empowerment of women over the years”. “The past two weeks have seen an upheaval, with several women from different professions, including journalists, making serious allegations of sexual harassment at the workplace and instances of sexual misconduct against various editors, writes, film-makers and others,” Ramani said.

So far, at least 14 women have accused Akbar of sexual harassment when they worked with him during his years in the newsroom. Th women have recounted their ordeals with Akbar right from the 1980s till as recently as in in 2010-2011. Their accounts include details of his “predatory tactics” and incidents ranging from sexual harassment, sexism and abuse of power in his capacity as an editor.

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