India’s junior foreign minister has announced his resignation following allegations of sexual harassment by a string of women, as the country’s fledgling #MeToo movement gathers pace.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations against me,” MJ Akbar, a former newspaper editor, said in a statement on Wednesday.
His resignation comes two days after he filed a lawsuit against journalist Priya Ramani, who had accused him of sexual harassment. He had termed the allegations against him as “baseless” and “fabricated”.
“As women, we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court,” Ramani, who was the first to accuse Akbar, posted on Twitter.
“Akbar’s resignation was overdue,” Shuma Raha, senior journalist, who had accused Akbar of inappropriate behaviour, told Al Jazeera.
“After more than 20 women came forward with charges of sexual misconduct against him, his continuing as a union minister was untenable. So, yes, better late than never.”
Akbar, 67, a prominent newspaper editor-turned-politician, was the most prominent figure so far to be named in connection with what is being described as India’s MeToo movement.
Akbar was overseas when the allegations broke and, upon his return, vowed to fight it out. But since then, women’s groups and political parties have demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi act against him.
Opposition Congress leader Sushmita Dev said Akbar should have resigned earlier and attacked Modi for his silence over the allegations.
“With these serious allegations against him, the minister should have stepped down a long time ago. Credit definitely doesn’t go to the government for his resignation. What’s really disappointing is that the prime minister has not uttered a word on this. ‘Til now, he is silent,” Dev told Al Jazeera.
The MeToo movement, which began in the United States to amplify accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in media and entertainment over a year ago, picked up pace in India in the past few weeks after a Bollywood actress accused a colleague of inappropriate behaviour on the set of a film they were shooting in 2008.
Since then, over a dozen men from media, entertainment and the art world have been accused of offences ranging from sexual harassment to rape. Several media organisations have sacked or sent employees on leave in recent days after a string of similar allegations.
Additional reporting by Zeenat Saberin from New Delhi