New Delhi: Strong protest notes and even resignations by members have not been able to influence the Editors Guild of India enough to expel three of its flock who stand accused of sexual misconduct.
The Guild on Friday published the latest list of its members which includes former Union Minister M.J. Akbar. He had to resign from his post last month after several journalists, who had worked with him, accused him of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. He has since been accused of rape as well, a charge he has denied. The members list also bears the name of former Tehelka editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal, who is out on bail in a rape case and Gautam Adhikari, former Times of India and DNA editor, who was also accused of sexual harassment.
Earlier this month, two women editors who are members of the Editors Guild accused the body of “chicanery” and offering a “spineless response” to the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against Akbar.
The resignation of Mrinal Pande and Mythili Bhusnurmath had come in the wake of some of the members of the guild offering justifications for not expelling Akbar from the prestigious body. Shahid Siddiqui, who is editor of Nai Duniya, had noted that he did not recall any precedent of the guild expelling a member.
Claiming that he has been a member of the guild since 1987, Siddiqui had suggested an intermediate course of action. “My suggestion is that Akbar should be asked to explain and a three member committee should look into the matter and give its report within 15 days, before any action is taken against a member.”
He added, “We must take a moral stand but also follow procedures. We should not be seen to be reacting in haste or overlooking due process.”
The guild had last month in the wake of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Akbar asked him to withdraw the criminal defamation case he had filed against journalist Priya Ramani. It had also come forward to offer “legal support” to women journalists who had spoken against him, a suggestion mooted within the organisation by Chaitanya Kalbag, former editor of the Hindustan Times.
Subsequently, as many more women came forward with accusations against Akbar, the guild had declared that it would take a decision on his membership on completion of the “due process”.
Pande accuses guild of acting like a “club”
In an email to the group that The Wire has accessed, Pande expressed her displeasure at Siddiqui’s statement. Calling the guild a “club”, she accused it of “chicanery”. One of the most prominent faces of Hindi journalism, Pande also reminded Siddiqui of how in the past “honorable men like Nikhil Chakraborty, Ajit Bhattacharjee and Prem Bhatia blocked the membership of a very powerful Hindi media baron and member of the Upper House because his paper published scurrilous reports on Mayawati. He later claimed he had ‘made peace’ with her so he should be admitted. They stood up to his bullying and just said ‘No’.”
Under the changed circumstances, she said she would like to quit.
“Spineless response” of guild irks leading financial journalist
Mythili Bhusnurmath, a leading economist and consulting editor at The Economic Times also announced her decision to quit in view of what she said was the Editors Guild’s “spineless response” to the allegations against Akbar.
In her resignation mail, Bhusnurmath wrote that thus far she had kept her counsel as she believed that Akbar should be given the benefit of doubt. She noted that the evidence – admittedly unproven in a court of law – was, however, overwhelmingly against him.
“But after reading Pallavi’s gut-wrenching account and the EGI’s spineless response to the allegations against him so far, I would like to quit,” Bhusnurmath added. She was referring to the allegations of rape levelled by US-based journalist Pallavi Gogoi, who had worked with Akbar at Asian Age.
“The EGI has never done much to inspire confidence in the past but now it is very clear it is not a body I would like to be associated with,” she wrote in her resignation.
Many members sought Akbar’s expulsion
In fact, following the rape allegation, there were strong demands from within the guild to expel Akbar.
Former editor-in-chief of Outlook, Krishna Prasad, had stated: “After this horrific account which uses the R-word, there cannot be too much ambiguity any more about what the Guild needs to do in the matter of M.J. Akbar.”
Amit Baruah of The Hindu too had demanded similar action. “Am a new member of the Guild so not quite sure about processes. No doubt in my mind that he should be expelled from the organisation.”
Another member, Harish Gupta, had in a letter to the other members, noted: “It’s not too late to act even now.”
The guild’s former secretary general and consulting editor of Rajasthan Patrika, Om Thanvi, was among the most vocal in the matter. He asked if the guild thinks of just “offering some legal defence fund to the victim” while “keeping intact the rape accused on its executive committee”.
Pointing out that the charges against Akbar were criminal in nature, Thanvi had urged other members to act, saying, “If we expected action from the Govt (government) people must be watching our inaction too.”