Women journalists in the country are up in arms against MJ Akbar, minister of State for External Affairs, after around dozen women accused him of sexual harassment. The Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) has written to President Ram Nath Kovind, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding that he be sacked pending investigation into the matter. Earlier, several journalists’ organisations, including the Press Club of India, had urged the accused to step down. But all fell on deaf ears.
Akbar should have just resigned to make way to an impartial probe into the entire episode. Having headed several newspapers that highlighted the issue of sexual violence in the country, he should know what it would be like for an ordinary woman to take on an influential personality, such as someone in the government, in a legal battle. He should be well aware that people in power can manipulate the whole system—officials have muzzled the weak too many times from telling the truth, going to any extent to protect their reputation. He still refused to step down to ensure a fair probe even after filing a criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, the first woman to open up on the alleged sexual harassment against him.
Now, what can you make out of this refusal to resign pending investigation? What message would it send to the public, especially to the women? The Union minister’s stubbornness can be taken as an attempt to intimidate, threaten, and victimise the complainant by using his position of power position. People have a reason to believe so because we have seen too many instances of influential people sweeping the truth under the carpet. And this comes just at the heels of legal notices slapped by Bollywood personalities Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri on actress Tanushree Dutta for accusing them of sexual misconduct on separate occasions. Women who have undergone similar painful ordeals in the hands of their superiors may later be discouraged to speak out. After all, who will open up on sexual harassment at workplace or other places if complainants are made to go through more pain besides the social stigma they must have to live with after revealing misconduct? The government of India should step in and take workplace harassment seriously. Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj can take the first step by asking Akbar to resign for an impartial investigation. The voice of the courageous should not be silenced.