New Delhi: Pallavi Gogoi, the chief business editor of the US-based National Public Radio, in a first-person article written for the Washington Post said she was raped by former minister M.J. Akbar in 1994, when she was 23 years old and working for the Asian Age.
Akbar resigned as the minister of state for external affairs last month after several women accused him of sexually harassing them. He has denied the allegations and has filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, the first person to accuse him of sexual harassment.
Gogoi, a US citizen now, said she began working with the Asian Age when she was 22 years old. Most of the employees were young women who were “just out of college” and were “star-struck” by Akbar’s reputation, Gogoi wrote. Akbar always made sure that the other employees were aware of his “superior journalistic skills” and would “shout at one of us at the top of his voice”, she said.
Gogoi became the Asian Age‘s op-ed editor when she was 23 years old and claims to have been assaulted by Akbar soon after. “It must have been late spring or summer of 1994, and I had gone into his office — his door was often closed. 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. I emerged from the office, red-faced, confused, ashamed, destroyed,” she wrote.
A few months later, Gogoi said she was called to Mumbai to help with a magazine launch. Akbar, she said, called her to his hotel room there on the pretext of seeing 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 recollected.
When they returned to Delhi, Akbar threatened to fire her if she “resisted” him again.
After the Mumbai incident, Gogoi had to travel to a remote village to report on an inter-caste couple who were killed. The assignment was to end in Jaipur and Akbar told her she could “come discuss the story in his hotel” there.
In the hotel room, even though she tried to fight him off, Akbar raped her, she said. She was filled with shame and did not report it to the police, Gogoi said. “Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself. Why did I go to the hotel room?
What was worse was that after that first time, 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,” she wrote in the Washington Post column.
Gogoi said she continued to look for assignments that would take her away from Delhi and Akbar. She travelled to Karnataka for the 1994 election and was the only reporter to predict the outcome of the election correctly. Akbar promised to send her overseas to the US or UK as a reward. She thought the abuse would stop. “Except the truth was that he was sending me away so I could have no defenses and he could prey on me whenever he visited the city where I would be posted,” she wrote.
When Akbar saw Gogoi talking to a male colleague in the newspaper’s London office, he was enraged, she said. After her colleagues left, she said Akbar hit her and “went on a rampage”, throwing, among other things, a pair of scissors and paperweight at her.
She considered going to the Asian Age‘s US office but since Akbar would still be the editor, decided to quit the job.
She began working as a reporting assistant, working the overnight shift at Dow Jones in New York. “My own hard work, perseverance and talent led me from Dow Jones to Business Week, USA Today the Associated Press and CNN. Today, I’m a leader at National Public Radio. I know that I do not have to succumb to assault t o have a job and succeed,” Gogoi wrote.
Akbar’s statement that the allegations against him were “baseless and wild”, she said, were not surprising. Akbar is “entitled to make up his own version of ‘truth’ today, just like he felt entitled to our bodies then”, Gogoi wrote.
Gogoi said she was writing about her experience now to support other women who have come forward with their experiences. “I am writing this for my teenage daughter and son. So they know to fight back when anyone victimizes them. So they know never to victimize anyone. So they know that 23 years after what happened to me, I have risen from those dark times, refusing to let them define me, and I will continue to move forward,” she concluded.
According to the Washington Post, Akbar’s lawyer Sandeep Kapur responded saying, “My client states that these [incidents and allegations] are false and expressly denied.”
Akbar later released a statement saying Gogoi and he entered a “consensual relationship that spanned several months”. “This relationship gave rise to talk and would later cause significant strife in my home life as well. This consensual relationship ended, perhaps not on the best note,” he stated.
He claimed that several people who worked with him and knew Gogoi were willing to “bear testimony” that the relationship was consensual and that Gogoi’s behaviour did not indicate that she was working under duress.
Akbar’s wife Mallika Akbar also released a statement saying the relationship between Gogoi and her husband created “unhappiness and discord” in their home. “In her flaunting the relationship, she caused anguish and hurt to my entire family,” she said. She claimed to have confronted her husband, who chose to end the relationship and focus on his family.
“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,” Mallika Akbar stated.
The Editors Guild of India also issued a statement saying it was tracking with “great concern fresh, and serious allegations” against Akbar.
Akbar is a past president of the guild and continues to be a member. However, according to the guild’s guidelines, the membership of editors who have changed profession goes dormant and Akbar’s membership is also dormant, the guild said.
“The Guild executive is discussing 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,” the statement adds.
On November 3, Gogoi responded to Akbar’s statement that theirs was a consensual relation by saying that she stood by her statements. “A relationship that is based on coercion, and abuse of power, is not consensual,” she said.
My statement: pic.twitter.com/7xoADdIHoX
— Pallavi Gogoi (@pgogoi) November 2, 2018
Note: This story was updated at 3:30 pm on November 2, 2018 to include Akbar and his wife Mallika Akbar’s statements.
Note: This story was updated at 5:40 pm on November 2, 2018 to include the Editors Guild of India’s statement.
Note: This story was updated at 1:24 pm on November 3 to include Pallavi Gogoi’s statement on Akbar’s response.