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Junior Foreign Affairs Minister MJ Akbar, accused by several women journalists of having sexually harassed them during his stint as editor at several publications, on Monday filed a criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani. Last October, Ramani had written an article in Vogue India magazine in which without naming him, she had accused Akbar and making advances more than twenty year ago. Earlier this month, after actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her, Ramani reproduced her article on Twitter, but this time naming the former editor. Several other women journalists followed. Akbar was on a foreign tour when the charges flew thick and fast but on his return on Sunday, he said his lawyers would respond to the charges.

Akbar filed the criminal defamation case in Patiala House Court through his advocates Karanjawala and Co. The complaint was filed under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, “for making false and defamatory statements in print/electronic media”. Akbar has accused Ramani of “willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defaming” him on “wholly and completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous grounds”, thereby harming his “goodwill and reputation”.

Akbar had in a statement late Sunday termed the charges as “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad. Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action. Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not however name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a Tweet: “Never named him because he didn’t ‘do anything.” He went on to detail his responses to the charges made by a few others too.

But the women journalists appear to be equally firm on their stance. One of them was quoted as saying: “I am shocked and dismayed. M J Akbar’s brazen shaming of all of us is evidence of his sense of entitlement and power. Our fight is the fight for every woman; a fight for justice, a fight against feeling violated in the workplace and in daily life.”

—India Legal Bureau

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