MJ Akbar’s presence on the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas booklet, distributed to delegates in Varanasi is quite discouraging. The ex-junior External Affairs Minister had to resign under immense pressure after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him last year. But Akbar didn’t go down easy. He fought tooth and nail to retain his position and he is still fighting to keep his image clean by alleging that these allegations of sexual misconduct against him, all of them mind you, are incorrect. The #MeToo Movement in India stood up against him, backing the brave women who dared to confront him. So when Akbar went down, it was a victory for #MeToo India. And yet, there he is, right next to our Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs, on a booklet. What kind of message does it send out, to let this man be there?

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • The EAM distributed booklets on Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, which featured MJ Akbar on its cover.
  • The booklet was apparently published in May last year, months before he quit as minister.
  • How didn’t it cross the organiser’s mind, that such neglect could lead to much furore?
  • Putting Akbar right next to the head of the country in a photo-op, sends out a very wrong message.

Putting Akbar right next to the head of the country in a photo-op, sends out a very wrong message.

Women’s stance against sexual harassment at workplace in India was as much about sexual transgressions, as it was about the misuse of power and position, not just to harass women, but also to force them into silence. The fight here was to make men accountable for their actions. To strip away the entitlement which factors like gender, money, position, etc., give them. While we are still to factor how it has changed our collective approach towards male entitlement and sexual crimes against women, Akbar being on a booklet distributed by EAM comes as a shock.

The least women were hoping to achieve with #MeToo was some repercussions for men accused of sexual harassment. That institutions and offices will stop endorsing them, until they can prove their innocence. But it seems like forced resignations and bans are just damage control measures, taken to protect institutions, rather than out of a serious will to improve working conditions for women. Either that, or plain laziness and sheer lack of will to show any support for #MeToo are the reasons why MJ Akbar is on Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas Booklet.

Did no one think of changing it, to ensure that MEA doesn’t get dragged into an unwanted controversy?

According to an NDTV report, sources in the ministry said that MJ Akbar is not at all associated with the event. The booklet was apparently published in May last year, months before he quit as minister. It highlighted achievements of the Ministry of External Affairs in the last four years and all the ministers in the MEA featured in it. Didn’t it occur to anyone, how the presence of a disgraced ex-junior minister would shift the focus from the achievements of External Affairs Ministry to the minister? Did no one think of changing it, to ensure that MEA doesn’t get dragged into an unwanted controversy? Moreover, no one thought how it would hurt sentiments of millions of women across India, and the survivors who have accused Akbar of misconduct.

The thoughtlessness of it all is baffling. It is not as if this issue is decades or even years old. This happened just months ago. It is too fresh in our memories, not to be taken into consideration by organisers of the event. This inconsiderate approach only says one thing – no one cares. It doesn’t matter if it is insulting to the women who are fighting for justice. Or isn’t even part of the event, let alone External Affairs Ministry. Why bother changing the booklet cover, when you can still get away with it.

This booklet feels like an endorsement of Akbar, paying no heed to the serious allegations levied against him.

We expect more sensitivity from government officials because in putting him right next to the head of the country in a photo-op, sends out a very wrong message. This booklet feels like an endorsement of Akbar, paying no heed to the serious allegations levied against him. We want solutions which will make workplaces safer for women from the governing bodies. And the first step, in that would be to show zero tolerance to such slip-ups, and assure women of this country that they genuinely intend to support the #MeToo movement.

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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