By Syed Zafar Mehdi

MeToo movement grips India, Minister among those in the line of fire

October 13, 2018

TEHRAN - India has got its own Harvey Weinstein moment with a number of female journalists breaking their silence and accusing a journalist-turned-politician of sexual harassment.

Many women have felt emboldened by India’s MeToo movement, which has caught the imagination of the world’s largest democracy, to speak about their personal experiences of sexual abuse or harassment.

M J Akbar, the deputy foreign minister of India, who was previously a senior journalist and editor associated with many leading news organizations, finds himself in the center of MeToo firestorm, with many female journalists accusing him of “predatory behavior”, including inviting young women to hotel rooms for “meetings”.

Many female journalists took to Twitter to narrate their harrowing experiences of sexual advances by Akbar, who is now part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s core group, while conducting job interviews in fancy hotel rooms, taking undue advantage of his position of power and privilege.

Priya Ramani, who has worked under Akbar in the past, was the first journalist to go public with her allegations. She shared an article written last year, in which she identified Akbar as the main protagonist. Ramani said she was 23 when Akbar called her to a Mumbai hotel room for a job interview and made sexual advances.

Despite the growing clamor for his resignation, the BJP-led government has not blinked yet. There has been no statement either from Akbar himself or the foreign ministry in response to allegations against him.

Although some BJP leaders have spoken in personal capacity, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj ignored reporters when she was asked whether her ministry would investigate the claims against her colleague.

Social media has been inundated with posts denouncing the silence of top government functionaries, including PM Modi and FM Swaraj, over the issue.

Akbar is the senior-most person to come under the #MeToo hammer in India, which has also caught in its grip many prominent film stars, comedians, authors, entrepreneurs and journalists.

The MeeToo phrase was coined by Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist and a sexual assault survivor, who started this movement in mid-2000s. According to Chicago Tribune, she “wanted to do something to help women and girls of color who had also survived sexual violence”.

The movement got fresh impetus recently with the Harvey Weinstein episode. Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, was accused of sexual misconduct – including rape – by over 70 women, many of them high-profile film stars.

Since then, skeletons have tumbled out of the closet in many countries, mainly inspired by the Weinstein saga. #MeToo movement has been widely reported in the media.

Now, the movement has exploded in India, starting from film and entertainment industry and spreading to media industry and government. It has become the trending topic on social media with everyone giving their opinion on it.

“We always knew there were predators among us, who ironically appear in public as gentlemen,” says Akansha Verma, a Delhi based women’s rights activist. “Now they stand exposed, and credit goes to MeToo movement and those brave women who dared to speak out.”

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