The Indian media’s #MeToo moment has now reached the shores of the central government. Minister of State for External Affairs and former founding editor of The Telegraph MJ Akbar has been accused of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment by multiple women online. In a pattern that can be seen in all these accounts, Akbar has been accused of interviewing women journalists in hotel rooms, and asking them to “sit on the bed” during the interview, making them feel extremely uncomfortable.
One of the first allegations against Akbar came from journalist Priya Ramani, who had written a post a year ago about a ‘male editor’ who behaved inappropriately, although she hadn’t named him then. On Monday, Priya revealed on Twitter that she was referring to MJ Akbar in her October 2017 article in Vogue. The account, titled Dear Male Boss, was about an incident in 1994 when the unnamed man (now revealed to be MJ Akbar) interviewed her in a plush south Mumbai hotel, offered her a drink that she refused, and asked her to sit next to him on the bed.
Priya also alleged that he sang her romantic Hindi songs after enquiring after her musical preferences during the interview. She also talked about the nature of power and power dynamics in professional spaces, how she continued working with Akbar for several years but swore never to be alone in a room with him ever again. She ended her 2017 account in Vogue with the sentence, “We’ll get you all one day.”
On Monday, she tweeted that the person she had referred to in her piece was MJ Akbar.
As has been the pattern in many of the allegations coming out over the last week, once Priya accused MJ Akbar, several other individuals came forward in the comments on Priya’s tweet to share their experience of having endured or heard of his inappropriate workplace behaviour.
He was this brilliant,flamboyant #editor who dabbled in politics, who called me-my 1st job- to his hotel room to 'discuss work', after i put the edition to bed-read midnight, & made life at work hell when i refused.,cudnt speak up due to various compulsions, but yes #MeTooIndia— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 6, 2018
@It was #MJAkbar I do not say this lightly..i know the consequences of false accusations &it has been now 17 yrs &i have no concrete proof. but i was young, just made features editor, super impressed with our brilliant editor, sensitive writer(read Riot after Riot), 1/4— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 9, 2018
2/4 but the great have feet of clay. i have narrated the story in my earlier tweets. i enjoyed our conversations-he was witty, intelligent, but this did not mean i was available.After i refused to go to thehotel at night-post putting paper to bed-things got nasty., 2/4— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 9, 2018
he made lewd comments, once when we we had a meeting with the entire features https://t.co/Na1HhVu4J3 of the girls told me later he had asked them to meet him in the hotel too. I was alone in the city, vulnerable, fighting battles on personal fronts. i kept quiet. 3/5— prerna singh bindra (@prernabindra) October 9, 2018
OMG! He turned up at my friend's house one night for a coffee. As a single mother with a sleeping child she told him she could neither invite him in nor go out with him. From next day he made life hell for her at their workplace https://t.co/3XRj7oWK94— Sujata Anandan (@sujataanandan) October 8, 2018
In this case, #MeToo. Year: 1995, Place Taj Bengal, Kolkata. After that encounter, I declined the job offer.— Shuma Raha (@ShumaRaha) October 8, 2018
So many of us have an MJ story. "Can I come over to your house with a bottle of rum?" he said. NO, was the answer.... Couldnt 'do' anything. Some dont get the meaning of No... they move on to the next, dont they https://t.co/eMnO6Y3PNX— Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) October 8, 2018
Social media commentators in the comments on Priya's tweet have called for the Minister to resign in the face of these allegations.