Indian Government Minister Quits After Sexual-Harassment Allegations


A junior minister in India’s government resigned Wednesday following accusations of sexual harassment, while Hindu hardliners tried to block women from entering a temple that the Supreme Court had ordered opened to all.

The resignation of M.J. Akbar, minister of state for external affairs, followed weeks of claims of misconduct against powerful men in India’s film, news and other industries in what has been dubbed the beginning of the South Asian nation’s #metoo moment.

Mr. Akbar, who worked under External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, has denied the accusations, made by at least 10 women, who alleged the misbehavior occurred while he was a top editor at different publications. He said he was resigning from his government post to concentrate on fighting the allegations.

A spokesperson from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment.

Mr. Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against one of the women, Priya Ramani, on Monday. Ms. Ramani wrote an open letter to Vogue India a year ago, in which she described as a 23-year-old being called up to the Mumbai hotel room of an unnamed 43-year-old man for a job interview. She said the man offered her a drink and asked her to sit close to him. Earlier this month, she wrote on Twitter that the man was Mr. Akbar.

“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office,” Mr. Akbar wrote in a statement.

Mr. Akbar became the founding editor of The Asian Age newspaper in the early 1990s. Other women have accused him of behaving inappropriately, forcibly kissing them, molesting them or sending lewd messages while he was a journalist.

Mr. Akbar issued a statement on Sunday saying, “The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice.”

Ms. Ramani welcomed Mr. Akbar’s resignation on Twitter: “As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court.”

Separately, conservative Hindu protesters on Wednesday prevented female worshipers from entering a centuries-old temple for the first time.

The Hindu Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala opened to devotees for the first time since the Supreme Court ruled last month that a ban on women aged 10 to 50 years was unconstitutional. Temple authorities said that the ban preserved the temple’s custom of preventing women of menstruating age from entering.

“The subversion and repression of women under the garb of biological or physiological factors cannot be given the seal of legitimacy,” the Supreme Court said in its 4-1 judgment on Sept. 28.

Menstruating women are often barred from religious activities and domestic chores like cooking in many traditional Hindu families.

For the past 10 days, conservative Hindu groups led by Prime Minister Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have held protests near the temple against the implementation of the court’s order.

“It’s all happening because of the atheists who went to the court determined to destroy the temple,” said B. Gopalakrishnan, a BJP spokesman for Kerala.

Bhakti Pasrija Sethi, a 40-year-old lawyer in Delhi whose petition led to the Supreme Court’s ruling said “superstition” was behind the protests.

“On the one hand, India is a country where women are worshipped as goddesses; on the other hand, this is happening,” she said. “What they are doing isn’t religion.”

Write to Corinne Abrams at [email protected] and Krishna Pokharel at [email protected]

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