L’affaire M. J. Akbar

Journalist-turned-politician, Congressman-turned-BJP, Rajiv-admirer-turned-Modi-admirer, Minister of State for External Affairs Mobashar Jawed Akbar has resigned in the face of a litany of charges against him by his former women colleagues when he was in journalism. But he did not resign gracefully. He put in his papers only when he was asked to do so by the Prime Minister. But he still remains a member of the BJP.  His party is not known to have even asked him to explain his position on the charges levelled against him. His bravado on his return from the official tour of Africa that he would take his accuser to court for defamation did not deter his victim. She announced her decision to fight the case in right earnest. Meanwhile twenty other former women colleagues of his came out in the social media with their own stories of being insulted and humiliated. The Prime Minister was left with no choice but to sack him.
But Akbar is not the only one in a high position against whom charges of improper behaviour have been levelled by women in different professions. There are others too, who wield considerable power and influence in their respective professions. The larger question is the male attitude to women workers. For all talk of gender equality and equal rights for women, the outdated and fossilized attitude of a patriarchal society to treat women as chattel dies hard. This is reflected in the way men treat their women colleagues. The sense of equality is the last thing that determines the quality and nature of that relationship.
In these circumstances it is heartening to see many women professionals shedding their innate unwillingness to put in public domain their harrowing experiences at work places. The patriarchal attitude tends to dismiss all complaints by women and put the blame squarely on women. The usual excuse is that the ‘provocation’ came from the other side. It is only when working women decide not to be cowed down by their overbearing male colleagues but take them head on, can this attitude change. It is the same patriarchal heritage that is at the root of the defiance of men not to allow entry of women into the Sabarimala temple despite a Supreme Court directive. To make gender equality a reality, rather than a pious intention, women will have to carry on a long and arduous struggle. Perhaps the Akbar case is the beginning of that struggle.

Sunday, 21 October, 2018