A U.S-based editor of a leading media house has accused former Union minister M.J Akbar of raping her in India 23 years ago, saying the ‘brilliant journalist’ used his position as the editor-in-chief of a newspaper to prey on her, an allegation denied by his lawyer.
Akbar, 67, who resigned from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Union Council of Ministers in October after multiple women came out with accounts of alleged sexual harassment, has filed a criminal defamation case against one of them amid the raging #MeToo campaign in India.
The latest allegation of rape was levelled against him by Pallavi Gogoi, the chief business editor of National Public Radio (NPR), a Washington-based American media organisation.
She has detailed the “most painful memories” of her life in an article in ‘The Washington Post’.
Pallavi said that Akbar, the editor in chief of the ‘Asian Age’ newspaper at that time, was a brilliant journalist but used his position to prey on her.
“What I am about to share are the most painful memories of my life. I have shelved them away for 23 years,” she said, detailing how Akbar physically and mentally harassed her for years while working at the ‘Asian Age’ newspaper from New Delhi to Mumbai to Jaipur to London.
Pallavi said she was 22 when she joined the ‘Asian Age’. She was star-struck working under Akbar. She was mesmerised by his use of language, his turns of phrase and took all the verbal abuse.
At 23, Pallavi became the editor of the op-ed page which was a big responsibility at a young age, she said.
“But I would soon pay a very big price for doing a job I loved.
“It must have been late spring or summer of 1994, and I had gone into his office his door was often closed. 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,” she alleged.
The second incident was a few months later when she was summoned to Mumbai to help launch a magazine, she claimed.
“He called me to his room at the fancy Taj hotel, again to see the layouts. When he again came close to me to kiss me, I fought him and pushed him away. He scratched my face as I ran away, tears streaming down. That evening, I explained the scratches to a friend by telling her I had slipped and fallen at the hotel,” she wrote in the ‘Post’.
When she got back to Delhi, Akbar threatened to kick her out of the job if she resisted him again. But she didn’t quit the paper, she said.
One story took her to a remote village a few hundred miles from Delhi and the assignment was to end in Jaipur.
When she checked back, Akbar said she could come discuss the story in his hotel in Jaipur, she claimed.
“In his hotel room, even though I fought him, he was physically more powerful. He ripped off my clothes and raped me,” she alleged, adding that instead of reporting him to the police, she was filled with shame.
“I didn’t tell anyone about this then. Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself,” Pallavi said.
Pallavi claimed that Akbar’s grip over her got tighter. For a few months, he continued to defile her sexually, verbally, emotionally. He would burst into loud rages in the newsroom if he saw her talking to male colleagues.