India's #MeToo activists welcome minister’s resignation

By Ahmad Adil

NEW DELHI, India (AA) – India’s burgeoning #MeToo movement is claiming victory following junior Foreign Minister M.J. Akbar’s resignation after being accused of sexual harassment.

Akbar came under fire after women journalists wrote first-person accounts of the sexual harassment and molestation they said they faced from him during his time as a celebrated newspaper editor.

“The Editors Guild of India salutes the courage shown by several women journalists in bringing to light instances of how they were sexually harassed. The resignation of Mr. M.J. Akbar from the Union Council of Ministers is a result of these women journalists’ courage to fight for a high principle: gender equality in the newsroom,” the guild said in a statement Thursday.

Akbar, however, has denied any wrongdoing and said he was stepping down so he could fight the allegations in court. He has also filed a criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, who was the first to write about his alleged unwanted sexual advances. A Delhi court began proceedings Thursday in the suit filed by Akbar.

“As women, we feel vindicated by M.J. Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court,” Ramani said Wednesday.

The Editors Guild warned Akbar to withdraw the defamation case or they would extend their support to the women he will be fighting in court.

“We hope that Mr. Akbar will also display the grace to withdraw the criminal defamation case he has filed against one of these complainants. While Mr. Akbar is entitled to all legal instruments available to a citizen to seek vindication, it would be paradoxical for a veteran editor to employ the instrument of criminal defamation. But if he doesn’t, or in case he files such cases against other women too, the Guild offers its support to them.”

While Akbar’s resignation has so far been the high point of India’s #MeToo movement, the movement itself began when Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta said senior star Nana Patekar sexually harassed her on sets.

Since then, several Bollywood big names including veteran actor Alok Nath, directors Sajid Khan and Vikas Bahl, singer Anu Malik and several others have been accused of sexual harassment. They have denied the allegations.

Several journalists and comedians have been called out as well.

“The #MeToo movement in India is a great moment in this country’s history where the glass ceiling has been broken, where women are not blaming themselves for sexual harassment and keeping quiet about it but are instead calling out the perpetrators,” renowned women’s rights activist Brinda Adige told Anadolu Agency.

“It is a great thing that this case has gone to the court and the Indian legal system too must keep with it and change its procedures and processes and not go about in a very slow and cumbersome manner in which cases take years and years without producing any results.”

Adige said the women’s testimonies in these cases should be given a lot of consideration and the witnesses and their identities should be protected.

One of the laws in which change is sought is one that lays down a three-month period for filing cases against sexual harassment, as most of the #MeToo cases that have come up happened several years ago.

India’s Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi last week proposed to set up a committee to look into all issues emanating from the #MeToo campaign.

Saira Shah Halim, a social and women’s rights activist, also welcomed Akbar’s resignation.

“Mr. M.J. Akbar stepping down is a victory to the movement in the country. It is an important movement for the country, because several women have now come forward and have shared their pain. It will set a precedent for the future,” Halim told Anadolu Agency.

“Serious and real issues need to be talked about under the movement because it could derail the entire movement if issues which don't come under the umbrella are discussed under the movement. For example, a man complementing a woman doesn’t need to be discussed under the #MeToo movement.”