MJ Akbar’s wife Mallika claims her husband and Gogoi were in a consensual romantic relationship over 20 years ago that caused ‘discord’ in her family.
New Delhi: Former Union minister M.J. Akbar Friday denied the rape allegation levelled against him by US-based editor Pallavi Gogoi, saying they were in a consensual relationship. Minutes later, his wife Mallika came to his defence and said Gogoi was “lying”.
In the latest #MeToo account published in The Washington Post Friday, Gogoi accused Akbar of rape and physical assault. Gogoi alleged that Akbar, her editor-in-chief at The Asian Age, raped her when she was 23 in the mid 1990s.
Speaking to ANI, Akbar’s wife Mallika, however, said she did not know Gogoi’s reasons for “telling this lie, but a lie it is”.
“I have been silent all this while as a ‘me too’ campaign has been unleashed against my husband, Mr. M.J. Akbar. However, the Washington Post article by Pallavi Gogoi alleging that she was raped by him forces me to step in with what I know to be true,” ANI tweeted Mallika as saying Friday afternoon.
Gogoi is among the more than 20 women who have spoken out on alleged sexual crimes committed by Akbar, but the first to accuse him of rape. Mired in a string of sexual harassment allegations, Akbar resigned as the minister of state for external affairs on 17 October, shortly after returning to the country from an official tour in Africa.
‘A relationship and not rape’
Mallika claimed that Akbar and Gogoi were engaged in a consensual romantic relationship more than 20 years ago, which caused deep “unhappiness and discord in our home”.
“I learned of her (Gogoi) and my husband’s involvement through her calls and her public display of affection in my presence. In her flaunting the relationship, she caused anguish and hurt to my entire family,” Mallika told the news agency.
She said that she watched Gogoi and her husband in “mortification and pain” as they “danced close” in a room crowded with young journalists at an Asian Age party in her home.
“I had confronted my husband at the time and he decided to prioritise his family,” she said in her statement.
“Tushita Patel and Pallavi Gogoi were often at our home, happily drinking and dining with us. Neither carried the haunted look of victims of sexual assault. I don’t know Pallavi’s reasons for telling this lie but a lie it is,” she added.
Tushita Patel is one of the 20 women who pledged to testify against Akbar in court. Patel is also the friend Gogoi said she confided in about the sexual assault by Akbar shortly after it first took place.
I don’t know Pallavi’s reasons for telling this lie, but a lie it is: #MJAkbar‘s wife Mallika Akbar to ANI on journalist Pallavi Gogoi’s rape allegations in the Washington Post against her husband pic.twitter.com/SFws1TwWhx
— ANI (@ANI) November 2, 2018
Akbar denies the charge
Responding to The Washington Post article, Akbar also unequivocally denied that he raped or assaulted Gogoi when she worked as an editor in his publication.
“Somewhere around 1994, Ms. Pallavi Gogoi and I entered into consensual relationship that spanned several months. This relationship gave rise to talk and would later cause strife in my home life as well,” he told ANI, adding that “this consensual relationship ended, perhaps not on best note”.
The former junior minister of external affairs also said his colleagues from the Asian Age would be “happy to bear testimony to what is stated above and at no stage, did the behaviour of Pallavi Gogoi, give any one of them impression that she was working under duress”.
“In the past weeks, I have been subjected to a barrage of false and fabricated allegations which I am now addressing,” Akbar said. “For the moment, this is all I wish to say.”
In her write-up, Gogoi accused Akbar of “defil(ing) me sexually, verbally, emotionally”, across states and continents, when she worked under him at The Asian Age two decades ago.
According to Gogoi’s account, the alleged rape took place when she arrived in Rajasthan while covering a caste-based murder.
Akbar was in Jaipur at the time. “The assignment was to end in Jaipur,” Gogoi wrote. When she checked with Akbar, she wrote, he “said I could come to discuss the story in his hotel in Jaipur…
“In his hotel room, even though I fought him, he was physically more powerful. He ripped off my clothes and raped me,” Gogoi wrote.
“Instead of reporting him to police, I was filled with shame. I didn’t tell anyone about this then,” she added. “Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself. Why did I go to the hotel room?”
Months of sexual, verbal, and emotional coercion followed, Gogoi said, adding she “stopped fighting his advances because I felt so helpless”.
Akbar’s lawyer Sandeep Kapur, a partner at Karanjawala & Co who is leading the defamation proceedings launched against journalist Priya Ramani, the first accuser, said his client “expressly denied” Gogoi’s allegations.
“My client states… [incidents and allegations] are false and expressly denied,” he told The Washington Post.
In his deposition at the Patiala House Court, Delhi, Wednesday, Akbar also maintained that the charges of sexual harassment made against him by Ramani were “false, baseless, and concocted”.
Statement by Editors Guild
The Editors Guild of India Friday issued a statement, saying it is tracking the developments with “great concern”.
“The Editors Guild of India is tracking with great concern fresh, and serious allegations of sexual misconduct against former editor M.J. Akbar. He is a past president of the Guild, and continues to be a member,” the statement said.
“In accordance with the decision of the Guild’s last EGM, as ratified at the subsequent meeting of the executive, membership of those editors, whose profession has changed from journalism goes dormant. Mr. Akbar’s membership is also therefore dormant.”
It also said the Guild executive is discussing a further course of action.
“As provided by the Guild’s Constitution, the executive committee is writing to him to respond to these allegations. His response will then be put up to the executive. A decision on his membership will be taken once this due process is completed.”