India's junior foreign minister has resigned following allegations by more than a dozen female journalists of sexual harassment when he was the editor of prominent newspapers. He has dismissed the allegations as "baseless and fabricated."
M.J. Akbar's resignation is the highest profile since a #MeToo movement gathered momentum in India with women accusing prominent men in the media and entertainment industries of sexually inappropriate behavior.
Akbar stepped down two days after he filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against journalist Priya Ramani, the first to name him for sexual misconduct.
"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 and challenge false accusations against me," Akbar said in a statement.
Ramani said she looks forward to getting justice in court, tweeting, "As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation."
The women who have accused Akbar of inappropriate behavior include journalists who are now in prominent roles in the media industry.
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has made no comment on the allegations against Akbar, pressure is growing to respond to the charges. Women's groups, journalists' associations and the opposition Congress Party had demanded Modi act against him.
Political analysts said Akbar's continuation would have hurt the government as it gears up for general elections next year, laying it open to charges of being insensitive to women. Modi has projected a pro-women image and launched several initiatives to prevent female foeticide and to educate girls.
"I am surprised the government did not ask him to quit earlier," said Ajoy Bose, an independent political analyst in New Delhi, adding that it was difficult to ignore the accusations. "Too many women had come forward, there was a floodgate of allegations."
Flood of accusations
Twenty female journalists who had worked under Akbar have rallied behind Ramani following Akbar's defamation suit by writing a letter to the court asking it to consider their testimonies.
Ramani had written an article a year ago for Vogue India titled, "To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World," without naming Akbar. After women began recounting their sexual harassment experiences, she retweeted the article earlier this month, saying it was about him and called him a "predator."
Akbar was "an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer," Ramani had said. She had worked with him in the 1990s.
The spark for India's #MeToo movement was lit by Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta, who named actor Nana Patekar for sexually harassing her during a film shoot.
Minister Akbar is the latest to resign following the flood of accusations that have followed. Two editors of leading dailies have stepped down in recent days, a Bollywood production house has closed, and India's biggest comedy group is in disarray.
Several female journalists welcomed the minister's resignation on television channels. "This is a moment to celebrate," said journalist Saba Naqvi, who has also accused him of sexual harassment. "Akbar's case was so blatant."