#MeToo: “MJ Akbar raped me and sexually abused me repeatedly”, US journalist Pallavi Gogoi writes in Washington Post

As the #MeToo campaign is gathering momentum, the Editor-turned-Former Union Minister, MJ Akbar is in deep trouble with more than a dozen women accusing him of sexual harassment, more particularly the US-based journalist, Pallavi Gogoi coming up with a startling revelation accusing him of rape, repeated sexual abuse and violent behaviour, IE reported.

Gogoi, currently the Chief Business Editor with National Public Radio in New York had earlier served as reporter at The Asian Age, when Akbar was the Editor-in-Chief. Washington Post had published the article of Gogoi on Thursday about the Ex-Minister and Rajya Sabha MP’s sexapades. Although more than a dozen women have accused the former Editor of sexual harassment, this is for the first time a woman (Gogoi) had levelled serious allegations of rape against Akbar.

Denial Mode

As soon as the account of Gogoi was published in the Washington Post, Akbar went on denial mode. Akbar and his wife Mallika issued separate statements yesterday, terming Gogoi’s revelation as “False” and a “Lie.”It may be recalled that during the start of the this week, Akbar had recorded evidence in his defamation suit against journalist, Priya Ramani, who was the first person to name him in a Twitter post on October 8, 2018, noted the report.

Unravelling mystery

Gogoi had served The Asian Age in New Delhi in the early 1990’s when she was 22 years old. In her article, she had written elaborately as to how Akbar, the then Editor-in-Chief of The Asian Age “used his position to prey” on her. In the article published in Washington Post, Gogoi stated, “What I am about to share are the most painful memories of my life. I have shelved them away for 23 years.”

When Gogoi was on an assignment in Jaipur, Akbar raped her for the first time. When she was on an assignment, Akbar had asked her to come over to his hotel where he stayed in Jaipur to have discussion about a story. “In his hotel room, even though I fought him, he was physically more powerful. He ripped off my clothes and raped me. Instead of reporting him to the police, I was filled with shame. I didn’t tell anyone about this then. Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself. Why did I go to the hotel room?”

When she was “start-struck” young reporter, Gogoi had to bear Akbar’s verbal abuse right from the beginning. However, in 1994, when Gogoi became the op-ed editor after putting in a year’s experience in her career that Akbar assaulted her in his office behind closed doors.

“I went to show him the op-ed page I had created with what I thought were clever headlines. He applauded my effort and suddenly lunged to kiss me. I reeled,” she wrote adding that she immediately confided in her colleague Tushita (Patel) who witnessed the look on her face as she emerged from his office “red-faced, confused, ashamed, destroyed.”

Gogoi had also narrated a second incident a few months later when she was summoned to Mumbai to help launch a magazine. “Akbar called me to his room at the fancy Taj hotel, again to see the layouts. When he again came close to me, to kiss me, I fought him and pushed him away. He scratched my face as I ran away, tears streaming down,” Gogoi stated and added that after she returned to Delhi, she chose not to quit the daily despite a “livid” Akbar threatening “to kick me out of the job if I resisted him again.”

Describing the alleged sexual assault in Jaipur, Gogoi alleged, “His grip over me got tighter”. “I stopped fighting his advances because I felt so helpless. He continued to coerce me. For a few months, he continued to defile me sexually, verbally, emotionally. He would burst into loud rages in the newsroom if he saw me talking to male colleagues my own age. It was frightening. And I died a little every day.”

Gogoi also elaborated how the abuse continued even after she was sent to The Asian Age’s London office with Akbar flying into a jealous rage when he spotted her talking to male colleagues “he hit me and went on a rampage, throwing things from the desk at me – a pair of scissors, a paperweight, whatever he could get his hands on”. Gogoi alleges that she finally quit when Akbar summoned her back to Mumbai and went on to take up a job as a reporting assistant at Dow Jones in New York.

Gogoi, now a citizen of America, said that she is speaking out in the wake of all #MeToo accounts by many journalists whom Akbar has threatened to sue. Gogoi wrote: “He feels he is entitled to make up his own version of ‘truth’ today, just like he felt entitled to our bodies then.”

Hours after Gogoi’s account was published by the Washington Post, Akbar issued a statement terming as false the allegations of rape and violence. “Somewhere around 1994, Pallavi Gogoi and I entered into a consensual relationship that spanned several months. This relationship gave rise to talk and would later cause strife in my home life as well. This consensual relationship ended, perhaps not on the best note,” Akbar said in the statement and added that people who worked with him were willing to testify and that “at no stage, did the behaviour of Pallavi Gogoi, give any one of them the impression that she was working under duress.”

Akbar’s spouse, Mallika Akbar too issued a separate statement, dismissing Gogoi’s account as a “lie” and said, “I have been silent all this while as a ‘#MeToo’ campaign has been unleashed against my husband, MJ Akbar. Gogoi’s article alleging rape had forced me to step in and blamed Gogoi for causing ‘unhappiness and discord’ in her family more than two decades ago. I learned of Gogoi and my husband’s involvement through her late night phone calls and her public display of affection in my presence. What is more, I had confronted my husband at that time and he decided to prioritise his family.”

Mallika also said that Tushita Patel (who had earlier accused Akbar of assault) and Pallavi Gogoi, who were often at their home “happily drinking and dining with us”, didn’t carry “the haunted look of victims of sexual assault”.

In her account, Gogoi also said that she had shared her ordeal with Suparna Sharma. Sharma told IE, “Akbar had a pattern then, in the way he preyed on and sexually abused and assaulted women, and he has a pattern now, in the way he is reacting to allegations against him.”

Sharma, currently, the Resident Editor for The Asian Age in Delhi, pointed out that in Gogoi’s case, Akbar was the boss who preyed on a junior he had brought to The Asian Age from The Telegraph, from Kolkata to Delhi.

“Akbar was ignoring their massive age gap. He was conveniently ignoring incidents she has narrated, often witnessed by others, of how he manipulated her to be alone and vulnerable by sending her off to other cities on assignments and then going there himself and assaulting her, of breaking her spirit. The power equation between them never changed as Gogoi had to literally run away, to another country, to save herself, and start her life and career from scratch.”

In a related development, the Editor’s Guild of India, in a statement issued on Friday, said that it was “discussing further course of action” in view of the ‘fresh, and serious allegations of sexual misconduct” against Akbar, a past president of the Guild. The Executive council will seek his explanation to the allegations, following which “a decision on his membership will be taken”.