An Indian minister accused of sexual harassment by more than 20 women has resigned as India’s #MeToo movement widens.
Mobashar Jawed Akbar, a junior foreign minister, submitted his resignation on Tuesday, saying it was appropriate to step down while he presses defamation charges against one of his accusers.
He filed criminal defamation charges on Monday against Priya Ramani, a journalist who wrote in an article last year about being sexually harassed by an unnamed former boss, whom she claimed on social media last week to have been Akbar.
In his court filing, Akbar, 67, a former newspaper editor, said Ramani had “wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously” defamed him.
More than 20 women have come forward in the past fortnight accusing Akbar of sexual misconduct including inappropriate staring and touching, forcible kissing and insisting that job interviews be conducted on beds in hotel rooms.
They include Majlie de Puy Kamp, a journalist with CNN in New York, who claimed Akbar kissed her when she was an 18-year-old intern at his newspaper Asian Age in 2007. “What he did was disgusting, he violated my boundaries, betrayed my trust,” she told Huffington Post India.
Akbar has been a prominent figure in Indian public life for decades as a writer, the editor of national newspapers, a confidant of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and as part of the prime minister Narendra Modi’s government.
He is one of the most prominent among many men accused in recent weeks of sexual harassment or abuse, including bestselling authors, senior journalists, comedians and actors.
The rush of accusations has prompted Indian unions and employer groups to seek guidance on how to manage sexual harassment in the workplace, according to industry sources.
Modi has remained silent as the accusations against Akbar have mounted, but the ruling Bharatiya Janata party’s president, Amit Shah, and several female ministers have acknowledged the allegations and said they are being examined.
The BJP has tried to fashion itself as a champion of Indian women, arguing that policies to improve sanitation and switch to more efficient cooking fuels have disproportionately benefited them.
In a video clip that went viral on Wednesday, a Modi government spokesman appeared to rush away from a press conference after the Akbar case was raised and ignored repeated questions on the issue.
Akbar was in Nigeria on government business when the first allegations emerged and was rumoured to be planning to resign when he returned on Sunday. Instead he claimed the allegations were a political conspiracy and launched criminal proceedings against Ramani.
His response failed to stem the accusations, with 17 women signing a statement on Tuesday accusing him of sexually harassing them.
Ramani said on Twitter:
As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation.
I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #metoo
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) October 17, 2018
Akbar’s resignation is a significant development in the country’s burgeoning #MeToo story, but it is unclear whether it will have ramifications for other politicians accused of sexual misconduct.
There are 48 members of parliament across India with cases registered against them relating to crimes against women, a quarter of them members of the BJP, according to statistics from the Association for Democratic Reforms thinktank.