Many more go down in #MeToo wave
Pressure mounted on junior external affairs minister MJ Akbar to quit as fresh charges of sexual harassment swirled against him as well as a clutch of celebrities on Wednesday. The prominent ones to be called out as part of the ongoing #MeToo wave were adman Suhel Seth, Bollywood singers Abhijeet Bhattacharya and Kailash Kher and comic Aditi Mittal.
Actor Sandhya Mridul was the latest to accuse TV star Alok Nath of sexual harassment. While most of them denied allegations, Akbar, who is in Nigeria, has not responded despite woman after woman recounting the alleged sexual harassment and abuse they faced when he was a prominent editor.
"Akbar should give a satisfactory answer or he should resign. We demand an inquiry," said Congress leader Jaipal Reddy at a presser in New Delhi. Almost nine female journalists have levelled allegations against Akbar.
They include the editor of Force Magazine, Ghazala Wahab, who narrated a harrowing account of sexual attacks that she was subjected to for the six month she worked as a young journalist at The Asian Age Delhi office under the editorship of Akbar.
.@mjakbar, minister and former editor, sexually harassed and molested me https://t.co/6qmWWL3slT— The Wire 🏳️🌈 (@thewire_in) October 10, 2018
"This is my story. My last six months as a journalist at Asian Age, the newspaper he edited, were pure hell with repeated physical advances," writes @ghazalawahab#MeToopic.twitter.com/TrD27xxvRC
In her account shared with news portal The Wire, she wrote: "He (Akbar) 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. 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."
She recounted several such instances where "the Editor" called her into his office alone and then physically assaulted her. She said she even protested in writing but he called her back to his cabin and told her she had "humiliated" him by "suspecting his emotions for her" were not genuine.
The Congress also targeted Union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for her studied silence on the matter. "We had hoped that women cutting across political lines will come out in support of these brave women who have now come out and revealed their ordeal and tragic stories. Unfortunately, Swaraj, to whom many look up to for inspiration, has chosen to stay quiet," said Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi.
One of the first reactions from the government on this issue came from Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi who called for an "investigation" when asked about the "allegations against a minister" in the government
Another woman minister, Uma Bharati, refused to comment but supported the survivors and said she believed that this would act as a deterrent. Former attorney-general Soli Sorabjee also found himself fending off allegations of sexual harassment by woman lawyer Seema Sapra.
She has reportedly filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, accusing Sorabjee of being a serial sexual harasser. The petitioner worked as his chamber junior in 2001 when Sorabjee was A-G. Sorabjee, however, trashed the allegations as "imaginary" and "baseless".
"She has a habit of making allegations [sic] against many people," Sorabjee told India Today TV. The eminent jurist added that he will not "dignify her with any legal action."
"I feel angry, but also sorry for her. I trusted her as a junior, don't know why she said [what she said in her PIL]".
Suhel Seth was also the subject of a sexual harassment charge. A film director and creative producer shared on Wednesday a number of screenshots of a lengthy WhatsApp message sent to Seth recalling an experience she had "buried deeply."
The woman alleged that despite her persistent declining, Seth asked her to join him for an ice cream in Janpath.
"You used your power to take me home instead. You then threw yourself at me although I was clearly uncomfortable. You shoved your tongue in my throat even when I resisted -- I whacked your head and said 'behave yourself'. You put your hand into my kurta and grabbed my breast," she alleged.
Part 1: I am not doing this for publicity. I am not doing this for Money. I am not doing this to malign a person. I am doing this solely to empower other women to directly confront the perpetrator. It’s hard - But it’s about time. This is my #MeToo message to Suhel Seth. pic.twitter.com/h1Z4VCBoq7— Natashja Rathore (@natashjarathore) October 10, 2018
She further wrote that she managed to stop him and went to the washroom. "Thank you for not raping me that night. Thank you for sending your driver to drop me home. Over time, I've learnt to manage you. But no woman should ever have to 'manage' the misuse of power and manage being sexually assaulted," she wrote.
(India Today TV/With inputs from Pooja Shali in New Delhi and agencies)