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M.J Akbar’s misconduct forced me to quit, says journalist Ghazala Wahab

Ghazala Wahab. Picture courtesy: www.facebook.com/ghazala.wahab

Ghazala Wahab. Picture courtesy: www.facebook.com/ghazala.wahab  

Senior journalist Ghazala Wahab told a Delhi Court on Tuesday that the “sexual misconduct” of former union minister M.J. Akbar, while he was the editor of Asian Age newspaper, compelled her to quit her job there.

Ms. Wahab, who was called as a witness in support of journalist Priya Ramani in a criminal defamation complaint filed against her by Mr. Akbar, narrated her “harrowing experiences” working as his subordinate at the newspaper.

It started when Ms. Wahab, then a feature writer, was shifted to a desk outside the cabin of Mr. Akbar. The arrangement of her desk was such that “if his door was slightly open he could watch me,” she said, adding, “Many a time I saw him watching me.” Later, she said, he started sending her private messages pertaining to her clothes and appearances in the newspaper’s intranet messaging service.

She recounted that sometime in August-September 1997, he called her to his cabin on the pretext of looking for a word in the dictionary and “sexually harassed” her. “I ran out of his cabin into the toilet to cry. The enormity of violation, humiliation overwhelmed me completely,” she said.

“The next day, he called me to his cabin and sexually harassed me again”, Ms. Wahab said. When she narrated the incident to the bureau chief, she was told there was little that can be done about it and that it was “entirely my call.”

“I was 26, alone confused, helpless and most importantly petrified. Asian Age had no mechanism to listen to complaints of sexual harassment. There was no internal redressal mechanism,” she said.

“Not only was Akbar Editor-in-Chief of Asian Age, he had also been an MP and a former spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. I believed that going public or going to police was not an option, given Akbar’s power and clout,” she added.

Ms. Wahab said when she messaged him that his “unwelcome sexual advances were unacceptable,” he instead of apologising lectured her on how she was humiliating him by rebutting his genuine emotions toward her.

As the sexual misconduct continued, Ms. Wahab quit her job. “I am not looking at legal remedies against him (Akbar). But I felt the #metoo had given women a safe platform outside the legal framework by which they could un-burden themselves and share their workplace ordeal,” she added.

The court will continue hearing the matter on Wednesday, when Ms. Wahab is likely to be cross-examined by Mr. Akbar.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2020 4:03:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/mj-akbars-misconduct-forced-me-to-quit-says-journalist-ghazala-wahab/article30269960.ece

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