By Zeba Siddiqui and Suchitra Mohanty
MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian government minister M.J. Akbar filed a defamation suit against one of at least 10 women accusing him of sexual harassment on Monday, calling her allegations false and malicious.
The lawsuit, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, names journalist Priya Ramani as the sole accused and says that she “intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated and salacious” allegations to harm his reputation.
Ramani was not immediately reachable for comment.
The lawsuit comes amid widespread calls on social media for Akbar’s resignation from his post as the minister of state for external affairs.
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 journalists have called for Akbar to be sacked and have threatened to boycott events he is attending until he resigns.
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 is one of the highest-profile figures so far to face accusations in India’s burgeoning #MeToo movement. Several powerful men from the worlds of media, entertainment and the arts have been snared in sexual harassment and assault allegations, which have led to a string of ousters.
In a one-page statement on Sunday, Akbar described allegations against him as “wild and baseless” and questioned if they were politically motivated.
“Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge,” he said in the statement.
Shutapa Paul, one of the women who has accused Akbar of sexual misconduct, told Reuters on Sunday that she was dismayed by Akbar’s response.
“Akbar’s brazen shaming of all of us is evidence of his sense of entitlement and power. I feel let down by the powers that be,” Paul said. “Truth and justice will prevail.”
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty in New Delhi and Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)