Twenty women journalists who were part of the first few teams MJ Akbar set up when he launched The Asian Age in 1994 have written a petition describing the former editor's behaviour, condemning his sexual advances, and asking the court hearing the defamation case to consider their testimony about the "culture of casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation that he engendered and presided over" at the newspaper. At least three of them occupy senior positions at national newspapers - these include Meenal Baghel, the editor of Mumbai Mirror; AT Jayanthi, the editor of Deccan Chronicle; and Suparna Sharma, Resident Editor of The Asian Age in Delhi.
Full text of the petition:
Minister M.J. Akbar has filed a criminal defamation case against our former colleague Priya Ramani for calling out his predatory behaviour towards the young women he employed at The Asian Age when he was its editor and proprietor.
This, despite the powerful testimonies of several other women who have stepped forward to speak out against his sexual misconduct.
What Mr. Akbar has demonstrated through his legal actions is his refusal to introspect, acknowledge or atone for his actions that have caused immense pain and indeed harm to many many women over the years. He himself, in the meanwhile, continues to enjoy enormous power and privilege as minister and Member of Parliament.
When Ms. Ramani spoke out against him in public, she spoke not only about her personal experience but also lifted the lid on the culture of casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation that Mr. Akbar engendered and presided over at The Asian Age.
Ms. Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment.
1) Meenal Baghel (Asian Age 1993-1996)
2) Manisha Pande (Asian Age 1993-1998)
3) Tushita Patel (Asian Age 1993-2000)
4) Kanika Gahlaut (Asian Age 1995-1998)
5) Suparna Sharma (Asian Age 1993-1996)
6) Ramola Talwar Badam (Asian Age 1994-1995)
7) Kaniza Gazari (Asian Age 1995-1997)
8) Malavika Banerjee (Asian Age 1995-1998)
9) A.T. Jayanthi (Asian Age 1995-1996)
10) Hamida Parkar (Asian Age 1996-1999)
11) Jonali Buragohain (Asian Age)
12) Sanjari Chatterjee (Asian Age)
13) Meenakshi Kumar (Asian Age 1996-2000)
14) Sujata Dutta Sachdeva (Asian Age 1999-2000)
15) Hoihnu Hauzel (Asian Age 1999-2000)
16) Reshmi Chakraborty (Asian Age Mumbai staff 1996-1998)
17) Kushalrani Gulab (Asian age 1993-1997)
18) Aisha khan (Asian Age 1995-1998)
19) Kiran Manral (Asian Age 1993-1996)
20) Christina Francis (Deccan Chronicle 2004-2011)
Of the 20 women, Tushita Patel shared her account of harassment on Scroll. She wrote: "1993, Hyderabad. You were the editor-in-chief of the Deccan Chronicle, I was a senior sub-editor. You came in to town and summoned me to your hotel to discuss my pages. I was late (I had to finish my pages). When I reached your room, you were sullen, sitting there drinking tea and in a vile mood. You started yelling at me about being late, about my work. I was trying to mumble some words. Suddenly you got up, grabbed me and kissed me hard " your stale tea breath and your bristly moustache are still etched in the recesses of my memory. I wriggled out and ran till I reached the road, jumped into an auto rickshaw and started crying."
Akbar has categorically rejected allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him and termed the allegations as "false, fabricated and spiced up", as he questioned its timing months before the Lok Sabha polls, and vowed legal action.
On Monday, Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani, the first woman journalist to publicly accuse him of harassment, a day after issuing a statement denying charges of sexual assault and harassment levelled against him. The criminal defamation case was filed in the Patiala House court in New Delhi, seeking relief under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The suit was filed by senior partner Sandeep Kapur of Karanjawala & Co. and is yet to come up for hearing in court.
To defend Akbar in this case, 97 lawyers of a law firm have been roped in, according to media reports. News18 reported that law firm Karanjawala & Co, hired to defend Akbar, called the mention of the 97 advocates in the Vakalatnama "standard practice", saying that only six lawyers are meant to appear in court for him.
"Our firm has 100 lawyers. We usually have all the names printed in one vakalatnama with only the ones who will appear in the case signing it. Our criminal team has six members and only those six will appear in this case. Only they have signed the vakalatnama," a spokesperson of the firm was quoted as saying by News18.
However, the news about 97 lawyers working to defend Akbar drew sharp reactions on social media. Pointing that this showed the consequences "lone voices" have to face for speaking out, several journalists and other Twitter users sided with Ramani.
Following the filing of complaint, Ramani said in a statement that she was "deeply disappointed that a Union minister should dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy". "By instituting a case of criminal defamation against me, 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 said.