Ranjona Banerji: When the perpetrator is powerful and victim is young and weak…

02 Nov,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


Politician, former journalist and now alleged sexual predator MJ Akbar has gone to court and presented his case: that he is being defamed by scores of women who used to work for him. On November 12, he will present his witnesses for the prosecution. But before he can do that, the most damning account of his predatory behaviour has emerged. The Washington Post carried on November 1, 2018, carried an account by Pallavi Gogoi, who had worked in the Asian Age in the 1990s and is now chief business editor of NPR in America. All other accounts have spoken of inappropriate behaviour, use of power and sexual assault. But what we have now is an accusation of rape. It is a chilling account of how a much-admired and senior editor uses his power and reputation to terrorise and assault a young female employee.


For all those who felt that the #MeToo movement had run its course, this is a reminder that the disease of sexual harassment and assault is well-entrenched, and it will take a long time for us to find effective preventive methods and punishments.

As an aside, one can only hope that the female journalists who have defended Akbar or stayed silent because of his “immense talent” may find it within themselves to at least acknowledge the extent and damage of his predatory behaviour. Those who are silent for reasons of friendship, well, at least one can appreciate their dilemma.

The fact that one man could terrorise newsrooms for so long based on his reputation as a journalist alone demonstrates how dangerous the cult of hero worship can be. That journalists, more cynical than others presumably, should fall for this, makes our predicament even worse.

Although not connected to the media, Anjuli Pandit’s account of sexual harassment at the Tata Group underlines once more how difficult life is for those who dare to complain. This is the crucial aspect of all internal complaints committees which has to be addressed first. Akbar was the editor and proprietor at Asian Age. Where could assaulted women go if they wanted to complain? In Pandit’s case, carried in The Indian Express of November 1, 2018, Rakesh Sarna, the man she has accused of harassing her, was on the complaints committee.


In spite of everything else happening in the world and media now, we have to return to #MeToo because if we, collectively we, take our eyes off the subject, everything will go back to what it was. These men who have spoken out against Akbar – Rashid Kidwai, Akshaya Mukul and Kamlesh Singh – are not just honourable; they are also necessary for the long battle ahead.



Again and again however, the question comes back to, “How did he get away with this for so long”. And not just him, anyone. Complaints, for instance, had been made about KR Sreenivas at the Times of India, but that only led to further harassment of the complainant. It was only after Sandhya Menon took to Twitter and made her experiences public, that the TOI management took the several charges against him seriously. And Sreenivas subsequently quit the organisation.

As this story in Scroll.in makes clear, the “guru” and “talent” myths in advertising agencies also help sexual predators along. Reading creative director Boddhisatwa Dasgupta’s excuses that he has a “genuine problem with boundaries” is nothing but self-inflating rubbish and no wonder advertising uses the word “creative” as a designation for writing marketing and PR guff.


Shake-ups within advertising have begun, but checks will have to continue to see what measures are taken to address workplace harassment:


I would suggest that we read Pallavi Gogoi’s story over and over, so that the full extent of horror she went through sinks in. Is it this “legacy” of entitlement that leads to rape because the perpetrator is powerful and victim is young and weak that Indian journalism wants to carry forever?



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