India‘s junior foreign minister MJ Akbar has filed a defamation suit against one of at least 10 women who have accused the former editor of sexual harrasment.
The lawsuit filed on Monday named journalist Priya Ramani as the sole accused and said that she “intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated and salacious” allegations to harm his reputation, according to Reuters news agency.
Ramani, in a statement posted on Twitter, said she was “deeply disappointed” by Akbar’s court complaint and was “ready to fight the allegations of defamation”.
Rather than “engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment,” she added.
Under Indian law, defamation is a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in jail.
The lawsuit comes amid protests calling for Akbar’s resignation in India’s capital, New Delhi.
More than 200 protesters from the youth wing of the opposition Congress party waved placards and chanted slogans outside Akbar’s Delhi home on Monday.
Some jumped barricades and clashed with police and dozens were detained, a Reuters witness said.
Akbar, 67, a veteran editor who founded several publications, has been accused of a range of inappropriate behaviour by female journalists who previously worked as his subordinates.
Many have called for Akbar to be sacked and have threatened to boycott events he was scheduled to attend until he resigned.
Shutapa Paul, another jounalist who has accused Akbar of harassment, told Al Jazeera the minister “has any moral responsibility he should step down”.
“Truth and justice shall prevail,” she told Al Jazeera.
The government pf Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained silent on the issue for days, while Akbar was attending a conference in Nigeria.
He returned to New Delhi on Sunday morning to find a crowd of reporters waiting outside his residence.
“This doesn’t impose any confidence in the government’s seriousness in addressing a very grave issue,” Geeta Seshu, member of the Network of Women and Media told Al Jazeera.
“On the one hand, this government professes a commitment to womens’ rights and to the girl child. And on the other, it allows a minister against whom such shocking allegations have been made to continue in office and represent it in international fora,” she added.
“Akbar, being a minister, the misuse of his powers in the pursuit of any legal action he contemplates is highly possible,” Seshu said.
“In the interests of an independent investigation and to ensure real justice for the courageous women who have come out to speak up, he should be told to step down till his name is cleared.”
#MeToo in India
Akbar is one of the highest-profile figures so far to face accusations in India’s burgeoning #MeToo movement.
The 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, has 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.
In the latest allegation to surface against Akbar, Majlie de Puy Kamp, a New York-based journalist, said Akbar molested her when she was an 18-year-old intern at his newspaper Asian Age in New Delhi in 2007.
“What he did was disgusting, he violated my boundaries, betrayed my trust,” de Puy Kamp told the news website Huffington Post India.
Kavita Krishnan, an activist at the All India Progressive Women’s Association said this is also a failure of the Modi government.
“MJ Akbar’s refusal to resign and his move to intimidate his victims with defamation cases is a slap on the face of all women – not by Akbar alone but by the Modi government too. This is Modi’s version of Trump’s Kavanaugh move,” activist Krishnan said.
But these are not the only accusations, complaints have appeared all over social media from men and women alike.
India’s main opposition Congress party has demanded Akbar’s resignation, while Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, has called for an investigation into the allegations against Akbar.
Additional reporting by Zeenat Saberin from New Delhi