BJP's silence on sexual harassment charges against MJ Akbar goes against RSS tenets, writes ABVP activist Rashmi Das

Editor's Note: This article has been republished in the light of junior foreign minister MJ Akbar's return to India. Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by at least 14 women journalists and is expected respond to the allegations amid growing call for his resignation.

For a few days now, people like me who have spent more than two decades in Sangh Parivar organisations have read with disgust and rage, the revelations about MJ Akbar. This man will be outed, we thought. This will not be tolerated, we were certain, nor swept under the carpet or be greeted with prove-it-in-the-court, kind of a response.

After all, this was the BJP government, which drew its legacy from Doctorji (Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar) and Guruji (Shri. M.S. Golwalkar) -- who taught and lived the principle of "rashtraya swaha, idam na mama" (nothing is mine, everything is dedicated to the nation). Dignity of women was a paramount principle. And therefore, after seven reputed women named their harasser, detailed their trauma, that time would be up for Akbar was the logical expectation.

But the government has embraced silence to defend a serial offender. The BJP now is sending lower-rung spokespersons who possibly do not have any inkling about Sangh Parivar traditions and they are trying to brazen it out. To them I say, you may win state after state but as Doctorji said “mere geographical lumps do not make a nation". What is required are men of character. The Prime Minister would know this, for he is a former RSS pracharak.

I do not know the seven woman journalists. But I do stand by each of them: Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab, Saba Naqvi, Shutapa Paul, Shuma Raha, Suparna Sharma, Prerna Singh Bindra. I have seen people including BJP men and women leerily ask "what took them so many years". Have they forgotten the world we live in? It is the harasser who is defended while the harassed are sent to the gallows. The woman is branded loose, the perpetrator is let off with the reprimand of it being an impulse failure.

No woman who has been violated would like to detail which part of her female anatomy was transgressed upon. It is too much of a shame. It is this conditioning that helps the harasser. Not speaking up, saves the woman their honor, saves them from being ogled at, does not mark them out as perfect targets for lechery and other perverted acts, that’s why they keep quiet.

File image of Union minister MJ Akbar. Getty images

File image of Union minister MJ Akbar. Getty images

Most unfairly aspersions are cast about why the women continued working, as if jobs are something only men can aspire to. The man-boss offering drinks is not condemned but the woman who was offered a drink is condemned. The man who conducts interviews in hotel bedrooms is given the benefit of the doubt but the woman who escapes his clutches is branded a harlot. It was common knowledge that the Asian Age newsroom was described as "Akbar’s harem” because of the disproportionality of young women in there and yet the Press Council of India or the Editors Guild did not think it worthy of attention.

It was in this atmosphere that these ladies chose to keep quiet. Social media is being harvested because formal institutions failed them. So, all those naysayers making cheap comments need to stop at once. It is the social conditioning of this sort that creates exclusion of women from the workforce. Then why have the ‘Beti Padhao’ campaign? Are women to educate themselves and burn their energies in the kitchen or are they to achieve excellence in their chosen spheres of work?

Every woman journalist is today asked whether she had a #MeToo moment. It is so dishonorable. Dishonorable not only to the women but also to the honorable men in this industry. Before, I started my magazines, TelecomLive and InfraLive, I put in years in mainstream media, working with two fine gentlemen editors, Mr Balbir Punj and Dr Sanjaya Baru, and a bunch of decent male colleagues. I never knew then that Monster Akbar or men like them existed.

When Akbar joined BJP, many thought he was a good acquisition, an intellectual asset. I can say with certitude on the basis of my discussions with top functionaries in the RSS and on the basis of my years of work in ABVP that the #MeToo revelations regarding Akbar will anger the RSS. For to them, dignity of women is Bharat Mata ki Jai. Akbar’s conduct is the conduct of a fallen man. He must be outed, investigated and punished for abuse.

My association with ABVP is more than 25 years old. And I have held several top positions. In my student days, I led the ABVP unit in JNU and was the general secretary of JNUSU. Presently, I head the World Organization of Students and Youth (WOSY) as chairperson, have done so for the past ten years. WOSY is ABVP’s massive network for international students on Indian university campuses. That’s why I find the utterances of BJP spokespersons as completely lacking in a moral compass. It seems that somehow, they have routinized like all other political parties, predatory conduct.

You needn’t have a #MeToo moment to support the woman journalists who have narrated their victimisation. You needn’t even be a woman. You just need to have a sensibility of what is right and what is wrong.

The author is the chairperson of the World Organisation of Students & Youth (WOSY) and an ABVP activist of more than 25 years


Updated Date: Oct 14, 2018 09:04 AM

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