‘Akbar’s continuation as minister sends out wrong message’

New Delhi: Demanding an “impartial and fair inquiry” into the multiple sexual harassment allegations levelled against Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs MJ Akbar, Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) penned a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi and National Commission for Women (NCW) stating that Akbar’s continuation in the ministry sends out a wrong message that the Centre is apathetic to these serious concerns.

“We are deeply dismayed that despite the long list of complaints involving the Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, no formal inquiry into the complaints comprising of serious charges of sexual harassment has been instituted at any level in the government. Rather, motives have been attributed to the complainants,” IWPC’s letter read.

“In the light of such shocking allegations, we hope that your government will rise to the occasion and institute an impartial and fair inquiry into the process in the interests of gender justice. In addition to the investigation into the specific allegations against a Minister, the Government must also examine whether media organisations have put in place effective institutional mechanisms for dealing with sexual harassment as required by the law. We very strongly feel that the continuation of the minister in his position only sends out the wrong message that the government is apathetic to these serious concerns and the need for a fair and impartial inquiry,” the letter further reads.

After the recent #MeToo campaign raged in India, more than a dozen women have alleged Akbar of sexually harassing them. He has been facing flak over the allegations, with opposition parties demanding the minister’s resignation.

On Monday, Akbar had filed a defamation case in Delhi’s Patiala House Court against journalist Priya Ramani. A statement from Akbar’s lawyers confirmed that the complaint has been filed under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.

“The scandalous allegations leveled by the accused against the complainant herein, by their very tone and tenor, are ex-facie defamatory and have not only damaged the goodwill and reputation of the complainant, in his social circles and on the political stage, established after years of toil and hard work, but have also affected the personal reputation of the complainant in the community, friends, family and colleagues, thereby causing him irreparable loss and tremendous distress,” the statement read.

In reply to Akbar, Ramani said she is “ready to fight” the case and that Akbar is trying to silence all the victims through “intimidation and harassment”.