India’s belated #MeToo movement snowballed Tuesday after several female journalists accused a minister in Narendra Modi’s government of sexual harassment and a producer alleged she was raped by a veteran Bollywood actor.
Women journalists took to Twitter to allege how M.J. Akbar, a well-known former editor and now a junior foreign minister, conducted job interviews in fancy hotel rooms and made sexual advances when they were starting out in the media.
Priya Ramani, the first journalist to go public with the allegations, identified Akbar as the unnamed editor whose inappropriate behaviour she had written about in an article last year.
Ramani said she was 23 when Akbar called her to a Mumbai hotel room for a job interview around 20 years ago.
Akbar was “an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer,” she said in the article which she reposted on Twitter on Monday. “You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab and assault. Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay.”
India’s foreign ministry was yet to respond to a request for comment from AFP and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj ignored reporters when asked whether she would investigate the claims.
Akbar — who has edited prominent Indian newspapers such as The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian and is a also a member of parliament — was yet to comment.
Another journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she declined a job offer after “the whole experience of an interview sitting on a bed in a hotel room followed by an invitation to come over for a drink.”
Journalist Prerna Singh Bindra said Akbar “made life at work hell” when she refused his sexual overtures.
In recent months, Bollywood figures, stand-up comedians and other top journalists have all found themselves accused of abusing their positions to behave improperly towards women.
The trigger appeared to be actress Tanushree Dutta, who has accused well-known Bollywood actor Nana Patekar of inappropriate behaviour on a film set 10 years ago.
Late Monday, writer and producer Vinta Nanda published a Facebook post saying she had not only been raped but “brutalised and violated endlessly” by a popular actor 19 years ago.
She did not name him directly but gave enough hints which led others in the Hindi film industry to quickly identify him on Twitter as Alok Nath.
“Neither I am denying this nor do I would agree with it,” said Nath who is adored for his fatherly and genteel on-screen persona. “It (rape) must have happened, but someone else would have done it,” the 62-year-old actor was quoted by Indian news channel ABP as saying.
On Monday, the political editor of the leading Hindustan Times daily quit amid swirling allegations of sexual misconduct.