New Delhi: Editor-turned-politician MJ Akbar – who recently had to vacate his seat as Union minister over multiple sexual harassment allegations under India’s #MeToo movement – has now been accused of rape by a US-based journalist who worked with him over two decades ago.
In the first-person account of Pallavi Gogoi, an editor at the National Public Radio (NPR), The Washington Post has also included MJ Akbar’s denial to the allegation, as told by his lawyer.
‘He ripped off my clothes’
The rape, Pallavi writes, took place in a hotel in Jaipur. “He ripped off my clothes and raped me,” Pallavi writes in her blog for the Washington Post.
Pallavi was the editor of the op-ed page of the Asian Age at the time of the alleged rape. She was 23.
Pallavi says that her blogpost was prompted by the #MeToo stories that named and shamed MJ Akbar. Pallavi recalls how she joined a team of young journalists who were all “star-struck” with MJ Akbar.
Akbar used to routinely abuse his team, but that was fine, Pallavi writes. “I was mesmerized by his use of language, his turns of phrase, wishing that I could write like he did. So I took all the verbal abuse. After all, I was learning from the best,” she writes.
“Or so I thought,” Pallavi notes before recalling an incident of molestation.
In the year 1994, Pallavi, then the editor of the Asian Age’s op-ed page, went into Akbar’s cabin at the newspaper’s New Delhi office. There, while praising her work, Akbar “suddenly lunged to kiss me”, Pallavi writes.
“I emerged from the office, red-faced, confused, ashamed, destroyed. Tushita still remembers how my face looked that day,” Pallavi writes. Tushita here is Tushita Patel, who is among the women who accused MJ Akbar of sexual misconduct.
A few months after the New Delhi office incident, Pallavi was in a remote village covering an honour killing.
“The assignment was to end in Jaipur. When I checked back, Akbar said I could come discuss the story in his hotel in Jaipur, far from Delhi,” Pallavi writes.
“In his hotel room, even though I fought him, he was physically more powerful. He ripped off my clothes and raped me,” she then says, describing what happened next.
And things, it seems, got even worse.
“His grip over me got tighter. I stopped fighting his advances because I felt so helpless… For a few months, he continued to defile me sexually, verbally, emotionally,” Pallavi writes.
First rape allegation
Akbar faces multiple accusations of sexual harassment. More than a dozen women previously revealed how they had been preyed upon and harassed by Akbar.
Some of them also accused Akbar of molesting them. But up until now, Akbar was not accused of rape, a criminal offence that carries a mandatory jail term.
Akbar has responded to the other allegations against him by filing a defamation suit against Priya Ramani, the first woman who came out with a #MeToo story accusing him of sexual harassment.
After resigning as junior foreign minister on October 17, MJ Akbar said in a statement, “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.”
Ramani said she was ready to fight the defamation complaint and “truth and the absolute truth is my only defence”. Women who have spoken against Akbar “have done so at great risk to personal and professional lives,” she said.
After Ramani more women posted allegations against Akbar. The list includes Prerna Singh Bindra, Ghazala Wahab, Shutapa Paul, Anju Bharti, Suparna Sharma, Shuma Raha, Malini Bhupta, Kanika Gahlout, Kadambari M Wade, Majlie de Puy Kamp and Ruth David.
The global movement
The #MeToo movement, which began in the United States more than a year ago after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, opened a can of worms in India in September soon after actor Tanushree Dutta accused her senior and film artiste Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. Since then, several men in the media, entertainment, political and art worlds have been accused of offences ranging from sexual harassment to rape.