Bharatiya Janata Party politician and former minister MJ Akbar has denied the sexual harassment charges laid against him by more than a dozen women. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singth
Bharatiya Janata Party politician and former minister MJ Akbar has denied the sexual harassment charges laid against him by more than a dozen women. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singth

In the latest addition to a string of allegations, US-based journalist Pallavi Gogoi has accused India’s former Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar of raping her 23 years ago when she was working with him at a newspaper.

Akbar has denied the rape accusation, claiming they were in a “consensual” relationship that caused “significant strife” in his married life. His wife Mallika Akbar has also told ANI that she knew about the relationship and had confronted at the time, leading to Akbar prioritizing his family.

Akbar recently resigned from his post of Minister of State for External Affairs in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government after a dozen sexual harassment allegations emerged against him in India’s #MeToo movement. He is now pursuing a criminal defamation suit against one of the accusers.

Gogoi, who is now the chief business editor at National Public Radio (NPR), wrote in the Washington Post that Akbar “used his position to prey” on her when she was working at the Indian newspaper Asian Age when Akbar was the Editor-in-Chief.

She was 22 and fresh out of college when she started working under a forty-something Akbar.

She told of the first incident of alleged assault in 1994: “I went to show him the op-ed page I had created with what I thought were clever headlines. He applauded my effort and suddenly lunged to kiss me. I reeled. I emerged from the office, red-faced, confused, ashamed, destroyed.” Soon after, she confided in one of her friends about the incident.

The second incident took place in Mumbai when Gogoi was called to help launch a magazine, she alleges. She was a called to the Taj Hotel where Akbar was staying and he allegedly tried to kiss her. She pushed him away and escaped. “He scratched my face as I ran away,” Gogoi wrote.

Things escalated when Gogoi was sent to cover a story away from Delhi and was asked by Akbar to meet him in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to discuss the story. She accused Akbar of raping her in his hotel room in Jaipur. “In his hotel room, even though I fought him, he was physically more powerful. He ripped off my clothes and raped me,” she wrote. She added that she did not report him to police and instead, felt shame and blamed herself.

She said she felt helpless and gave up fighting him even as he allegedly continued assaulting her. “He would burst into loud rages in the newsroom if he saw me talking to male colleagues my own age. It was frightening,” she added.

She was later sent to the United Kingdom as a reward for her work as a reporter. However, she alleged the move was a ploy by Akbar to prey on her whenever he visited her at her new posting. “I recall the time he worked himself into a rage in the London office because he had seen me talk in a friendly manner to a male colleague.

“After my colleagues left work that eveninghe hit me and went on a rampage, throwing things from the desk at me – a pair of scissors, a paperweight, whatever he could get his hands on. I ran away from the office and hid in Hyde Park for an hour,” she wrote.

Soon after the London incident she left the job and went to New York to work at Dow Jones and turned her life around from then on.

Referring to Akbar’s defamation suit, she said she had not thought of the implications of sharing her story. “But I am writing this because I know what it is like to be victimized by powerful men like Akbar. I am writing this to support the many women who have come out to tell their truth,” she wrote.

Akbar has filed for defamation against journalist Priya Ramani, who wrote a column on sexual harassment in Vogue, and posted her article on Twitter with the comment that she was naming Akbar. She detailed how Akbar, then 43, had invited her to his hotel room for a job interview and harassed her. She was a 23-year-old reporter at the time.

Akbar has denied all the allegations in a statement, calling them “wild and baseless” and politically motivated.

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