I wasn’t expecting M J Akbar to go down without a fight. His stoic silence, while he was abroad, was a clear indicator. Now that he has chosen to take his victims to court, we need to break it down and understand why his brazenness continues to exist unabated.
There are no clear lines and definitions for what counts as sexually inappropriate or sexual innuendoes. Perversion is a part of our society. Passing lewd remarks and groping is acceptable behaviour. Girls from the onset of their teens are made to undergo these in public transport and other public places. They suffer silently, shrug it off and continue their lives because the society has made sex itself a taboo and it’s too shameful to talk about perversion. Add to it the fact that if they complain and make a noise – their families will readily ask them to sit at home and get them married as soon as they are old enough. What choice do women really have?
Now Akbar claims he hasn’t done anything to his accusers. He claims he didn’t rape anyone, and he would have never because there was too much for him to lose in the society and professionally by crossing that line. All his victims had alleged that his transgressions took place either inside his office room or hotel rooms when there was no third person. Looks like he was smart enough to make it into a “his word against theirs” – in case anyone tried to complain against him. And what would have been his line of reasoning? Because of his enormous position and power in journalism women were trying to exploit him with false accusations. In the statement he has given out, he is substantiating his claim that he has done nothing to women with the argument that his victims continued working with him after the alleged incidents happened.
The corporate was a very different world until about 10-15 years back. There was no internet and social media. Opportunities were far and few in every field. Associating with established and influential people in the respective fields was the norm to kickstart careers. Interning is the new age word for apprenticing. Women apprentices were far and few at the turn of the 20th century. Male apprentices were made to slog it out before an opportunity opened out before them. It is into this world that women came in aspiring for careers and equal status of men.
So when someone of the stature of Akbar, instead of being an astute mentor became an unabashed abuser, what could have the poor girls done? How they chose to live through each day expecting anything to happen to them and within reach of his predatory hands and lust is commendable beyond words. Along with abusing women, he was abusing his own authority, and most importantly he helped create a system where the abuse could continue without being questioned.
Akbar has tried to trigger a political storm by claiming that these accusations rearing their head just before the 2019 elections are nothing but a political conspiracy. It flies right back on his face. A conspiracy would have been if ALL the women who had worked with him were accusing him. It’s obvious that he did not fancy every woman who worked with him. Some might have even given in to his perverted sexual needs. The ones who chose to not lay down their dignity at his feet were the ones who got harassed and abused, and those are the women who have raised their voice against him.
It comes as no surprise that the government has chosen to protect him. If he had used his power and influence in the workplace to abuse his colleagues, the government he is part of has been abusing their power by promoting and bringing rapists and criminals into their fold. His personality and behaviour is a reflection of the autocratic mindset of the BJP leadership. It was Rajiv Gandhi who had brought him under the political umbrella thereby giving him immeasurable influence and power. This is another reason why his victims had no choice but to bury their shame and live in quiet despair for so long. He became a turncoat and jumped ship to BJP after 2014 elections to continue wielding power and influence he had. So the Congress party will never make accusations against him because it will all boomerang on them.
Akbar has to realise that life catches up with everyone at some point in time of our lives. Even a battery of 97 lawyers at his disposal is not going to be enough to pull him out of this hole. The women who have complained against him are all established and seasoned professionals now. They have nothing to gain by tarnishing his name. He may not be eventually prosecuted by law, but his political career and his standing in the society is ruined and shamed forever. Abusers like him in the future may even get called with contempt as “Akbar” or “Akbar ka beta (son)” or “Akbar ka potha (grandson)”. These accusations must have made a normal life in the society untenable for his immediate and extended families. There would be no greater punishment than having to live out his old age in such shame and indignity.