Issue :   
November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:November' 2018

FRANKLY SPEAKING

#MeToo v. M J Akbar’s exit

At stake is women’s honour & dignity !

Hari Jaisingh

M J Akbar

Priya Ramani Thanks to sustained #MeToo campaign by a large number of women journalists and mounting public pressure, the Narendra Modi government at long last acted decisively leaving no choice for high-profile alleged predator MJ Akbar out to resign as minister of state for external affairs. It was getting crystal clear to the BJP-led NDA establishment that continuation of Akbar in the ministry would prove to be more of a liability than an asset for in the crucial 2019 general election. For the journalist-turnedpolitician to say that the “allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct” against him by over 20 women journalists “are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice” was far from convincing after checking up his credentials from certain “insiders” in the media profession who ought to know better than ordinary folks.

Amit Shah and Sushma Swaraj Equally amateurish and unconvincing was his raising of the question: “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda”. He was alleging that all his accusers have a political motive to malign him and his party before the 2019 national election. I am surprised that M J Akbar, who once headed prominent newspapers like The Telegraph and The Asian Age, should have spoken like a half-baked politician. Perhaps, he was under an illusion that speaking the idioms of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah would help him strengthen his position in the government. Mercifully, that was not to be. He had to exit 10 days after he was first named on social media by a woman journalist.

Maneka Gabdhi and Smriti Irani Akbar should not have brazened it out to the extent of banging a legal case against journalist Priya Ramani out of multiple accusers. This showed his character. Priya had tweeted on October 8 that M J Akbar was the man she had referred to in an incident she had shared in a magazine article a year ago when the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the US fuelled the #MeToo movement. As an exeditor, M J Akbar ought to have known about social conditions of women at workplace in a male-dominated society like India two decades back.

Prerna Singh Bindra Ghazala Therefore, for him to raise the question: “Why no one went to the authorities for so long?” was both absurd and outrageous, to say the least. While M J Akbar’s boss foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had refrained from commenting on these shocking happenings, Maneka Gabdhi and Smriti Irani came out in support of the #MeToo campaign.

Shutapa Paul Suparna Sharma I was perplexed at the Modi government’s cautious approach in the matter. It must not have overlooked the

Shuma Raha Malini Bhupta agonizing accounts of so many women journalists of substance, such as Ms Ramani, Prerna Singh Bindra, Ghazala, Shutapa Paul, Anju Bharati, Suparna Sharma, Shuma Raha, Malini Bhupta, Kanika Gahlot, Kudambari M Wade, Majlie de Phy Kamp, Ruth David and others.

J Walcot once said: “Conscience, a little sprite. That bat-like winks by day and wakes by night”. The problem today is that the “little sprite” has ceased to “wink by day” or “wake by night”. I am sorry to say that the socalled powerful persons like Akbar have ceased to think or reflect on their actions and nonactions, or wrong doings.

Tanushree Dutta and Nana Patekar It has to be kept in mind that the #MeToo campaign in India picked up momentum after exactor Tanushree Dutta accused veteran actor Nana Patekar of harassing her on the sets of a film 10 years ago. After that a number of women started posting their harrowing experiences on a Twitter thread, naming and shaming a number of media men, writers and Bollywood persons.
I don’t wish to repeat their accounts of sexual misconduct. The social media is full of such stories. My point is simple: how can women journalists from diverse sections of society be a part of a “political conspiracy” as the Akbar brainwave suggested. In any case, journalist Akbar was never part of one political party. A socialist, he changed his political colours from time to time. He joined the BJP, just before the 2014 general election. A member of the Rajya Sabha, he enjoyed his powerful ministerial position till the other day.

Editors and journalists, who give sermons to others in writings on ethical values, transparency and accountability in public life, are expected to follow the same norms of conduct in their profession. This is a matter of public faith which must not be compromised at any cost. They are also expected not to allow themselves to be used by powers-that-be or upmarket manipulators or for their personal sexual weaknesses.

Narendra Modi Be that as it may. His arrogant public posturing did not come from the pen. He flaunted his legal weapon from the ministerial chair, though morally, professionally and politically, his position was “untenable” after multiple women levelled serious charges against him.
We have to respect India’s “Woman Power”. I was happy about Prime Minister Modi’s own campaign of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”. I expected him to act fast. In any case, women’s power cannot be weighed on the legal scale of our outdated laws and rules.
My advice to the victims would be to file an FIR as one team to strengthen their position legally. I am sure India has no dearth of socially enlightened lawyers who would take up their just cause in the public interest.
Looking back, I believe that editors and journalists who give sermons to others in writings on ethical values, transparency and accountability in public life are expected to follow the same norms of conduct in their profession. This is a matter of public faith which must not be compromised at any cost. They are also expected not to allow themselves to be used by powers-that-be or up-market manipulators or for their personal sexual weaknesses.
Equally important is conscience. Editors should conduct themselves as a guide, friend and philosopher of the members of their editorial teams so that each person plays his or her professional role objectively and fearlessly.
Indeed, the editors of yesteryears or of today need to conduct themselves with a sense of social responsibility towards women and weaker sections of society. Otherwise, they are not worth the high chair they happen to occupy. At stake is the question of safety, honour and dignity of our young, women at workplace ! J Walcot once said: “Conscience, a little sprite. That bat-like winks by day and wakes by night”. The problem today is that the “little sprite” has ceased to “wink by day” or “wake by night”. I am sorry to say that the so-called powerful persons like Akbar have ceased to think or reflect on their actions and non-actions, or wrong doings.
The conscience (“the inward light each mind hath”) in itself is totally missing. This blurring of conscience and judgment has apparently led to “a degree of debasement” which has virtually taken “the life of the soul”. I hope M.J. Akbar’s exit will be a new starting point in public life and restrain potential predators from harassing and initimidating women at workplace !