An Indian cabinet minister quit his office on Wednesday after 21 women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against him.
The minister, M.J. Akbar, is the most prominent figure who has stepped down because of the pressure exerted by the ongoing #MeToo Movement in the country. According to a report by the BBC, the charges against him "range from predatory behavior to sexual assault."
In a statement provided to the Asian News International (ANI), Akbar said that he would "challenge the false accusations levied against him." Before joining the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014, Akbar worked as a well-known journalist in the country.
He served as the editor of several newspapers, including the Asian Age, Deccan Herald, the Telegraph, India Today, and Headlines Today. All women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are journalists with whom he worked prior to joining politics.
Last week, as the #MeToo Movement started gathering pace in the world's largest democracy, journalist Priya Ramani retweeted an open letter that she wrote to her "unnamed" male boss last year for sexually harassing her when she was 23.
In the piece, published by Vogue India, Ramani talked about how her male editor asked her to "sit close to him" and sang her old Hindi songs. He was 43 when the incident took place.
In the recent retweet, however, she openly declared that it was minister M.J Akbar that she was referring to in last year's letter. She also urged other women to come forward with their stories against him.As a result of the tweet, Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against the journalist, but she remained adamant and said in a statement that she would "fight back."
Following the tweet, 20 other female journalists – most of whom worked with the Asian Age – penned a joint statement and pledged to testify in court against Akbar. He served as the editor of the said newspaper for 15 years. The journalists said the following in the statement, per NDTV.
"Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider the testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment."NDTV also reported that Akbar, upon his arrival from a foreign tour a day before, trashed the #MeToo allegations in a statement and commented that the movement is based on "accusations without evidence [and] has become a viral fever."
Following his resignation, journalist Ramani tweeted that the minister's resignation has made women feel "vindicated."