Gentleman in question must respond, Irani to Akbar on #MeToo allegations

NEW DELHI: Amid allegations of sexual harassment against the 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 colleagues. “But I think it is for the gentleman to issue the statement and not me,” she said.

“The gentleman concerned would be in a better position to speak on this issue. I appreciate that the media are accosting his female colleagues, but I think, it is for the gentleman concerned to issue a statement and not for me,” Smriti Irani told reporters.

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 the 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.

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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.

Akbar has come under fire after a woman journalist Priya Ramani claimed on Twitter that in the article which she had written for Vogue India in 2017 about her gut-wrenching incident of sexual misconduct was to expose MJ Akbar.

At least seven women journalists have accused Akbar of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour when he was an editor.

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Since then, opposition parties including the Congress and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) have demanded Akbar’s resignation.

Akbar is currently on an official visit to Nigeria and scheduled to come back on Friday.

Agency inputs