As India’s one-week-old #MeToo movement is gaining momentum, federal Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi, above, has proposed to set up a committee consisting of senior judicial and legal persons to look into all sexual harassment cases emerging from the campaign.
The panel will review the existing legal and institutional frameworks for handling complaints of sexual harassment and advise the ministry on how to strengthen them, she said.
The proposal comes as #MeToo movement is threatening to unseat a high-profile federal minister, who is currently on an African tour, after it hit Bollywood.
The fate of Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar, a former editor, writer and intellectual, will be known after he returns on Sunday from the tour.
Reports say the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government will hear Akbar’s side of the story before taking any decision. Party chief Amit Shah on Saturday said allegations against Akbar will be looked into.
The allegations have come as a big embarrassment for the federal government which takes pride in its personal campaign ‘Save girl child, educate a girl child.’ As minister of external affairs, Akbar is the face of India abroad. State assembly elections and national elections are not far off.
More than ten women journalists, who used to work with him in newspapers many years ago, have now stepped forward accusing him of sexual misconduct when they were just starting their career.
The inspiration for this came after a Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta sparked India’s own #MeToo wave by filing a complaint against actor Nana Patekar accusing him of misbehaving with her on the sets of a film in 2008. Patekar has rejected the allegation.
The first journalist to come forward against Akbar was Priya Ramani who tweeted a link to a piece on him she had written in October last year for Vogue India.
In the article, Ramani recalled her job interview at a Mumbai hotel. Akbar, she wrote, called her to his room, sang old Hindi songs and asked her to sit on his bed which she politely refused.
Ramani tweeted she did not name Akbar in the article as he did not ‘do’ anything to her. But lots of women may have worse stories about him to share, she added.
One such woman was Ghazala Wahab, editor of Force. Inspired by the #MeToo wave, Wahab wrote a piece in The Wire about her last six months in 1997 as a journalist in Asia Age which Akbar edited. She described his sexual assaults which made her cry her eyes out.
Suparna Sharma, resident editor of The Asian Age, Delhi, told the Indian Express how she screamed at Akbar for inappropriately touching her while she was making page one of the paper. Sharma was then in her 20s. She worked for the newspaper between 1993 and 1996.
According to Sharma, Akbar targeted young, bright and ambitious women who lived alone. He offered them important assignments, sent them out of town and met them in hotels or invited them for a car ride with him.
In a series of tweets, founder-editor of NewCrop Shutapa Paul, who had resisted Akbar’s overtures while working with him in India Today, said the fact that he is now more powerful than ever makes her shudder.
A US-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp told Huffpost India that Akbar sexually assaulted her when she went to thank him after completing her internship at Asia Age in 2007.
She had met Akbar through her parents who used to work as foreign correspondents in Delhi in the 1990s.