New Delhi, Oct 11 : Amid allegations of sexual harassment against former editor and Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani on Thursday said the “gentleman in question would be in a better position to answer.”
Irani is the second minister in Prime Minister Modi’s team, after Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, to react to the allegations against Akbar in the rising #MeToo campaign in India.
Irani said she “appreciated” media for accosting his female collegues. “But I think it is for the gentleman to issue the statement and not me,” she said.
Irani said she had repeated time and again on the issue, especially about women speaking out. “Anybody who is speaking out in no way should be shamed, victimised or mocked,” she said.
“This is my only appeal to those witnessing this surge of outpouring of emotions of the anger on the internet and offline also,” she added.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader’s remarks came after the government faced flak from opposition parties over allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar by several female journalists and demanded his removal.
On Tuesday, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi also supported the #MeToo movement which has caused a storm in the film industry and singed newsrooms, reaching the Modi government with Akbar being named.
Gandhi had said there should be an investigation.
“Those who are in positions of power always use it, whether it is film, media or industry. Whenever women make such allegations, we should take them very seriously,” Gandhi had said.
At least seven women journalists have accused Akbar of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour when he was editor.
On Thursday, FORCE magazine executive editor Ghazala Wahab wrote an account of her “harrowing experience” with Akbar.
Former Mint Lounge editor Priya Ramani, who wrote about a predatory “celebrity editor” without naming anyone in a piece last year, on Monday publicly identified Akbar as the central character of her piece.
“I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator — maybe they’ll share,” she said.
Journalist Shutapa Paul recalled in a series of tweets on Wednesday that as an India Today editor whenever Akbar came to Kolkata, he would invite her to his hotel, usually after 8 pm. He would then drink and ask her to do the same.
The other female journalists who levelled allegations against Akbar included Prerna Singh Bindra, Sujata Anandan, Shuma Raha, Harinder Baweja and Anju Bharti.
Akbar is currently on an official visit to Nigeria and scheduled to come back on Friday.