New Delhi: Journalist-turned-politician M.J. Akbar on Monday filed a criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani, the first woman journalist to publicly accuse him of harassment, a day after issuing a statement denying charges of sexual assault andharassment levelled against him.

Akbar is currently minister of state for external affairs in the Narendra Modi government.

More than 10 women, apart from Mint Lounge columnist Priya Ramani have over the past few days recounted instances of alleged sexual misconduct by Akbar. These include journalists Ghazala Wahab, Suparna Sharma, Harinder Baweja, Anju Bharti and Kanika Gahlaut.

The criminal defamation case was filed in the Patiala House court in New Delhi, seeking relief under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The suit was filed by senior partner Sandeep Kapur of Karanjawala & Co. and is yet to come up for hearing in court.

The plea contended that irreparable damage has been done to Akbar’s reputation.

“The scandalous allegations levelled by the accused, by the very tone and tenor are ex-facie defamatory and have not only damaged the goodwill and reputation of the complainant in his social circles and on the political stage but affected his personal reputation in the community, friends, family," it said.

The complaint listed instances of the alleged defamatory statements made by Ramani being circulated through print and electronic media, as well as Twitter.

Ramani, in a statement shared on her Twitter account, said that she was ready to fight allegations of defamation against her.

“I am deeply disappointed that a union minister should dismiss allegations of several women as political conspiracy. By instituting a case of criminal defamation against me, Mr Akbar has made his stand clear: rather than engage with the serious allegations that many women have made against him, he seeks to silence them through intimidation and harassment", she said.

On Sunday, Akbar rejected the sexual harassment claims and said that they were “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice". He said he could not respond to the charges previously as he was on an official tour.

The accusations first surfaced in a Twitter post by Ramani on 8 October as Akbar began his trip to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. Ramani named Akbar as the editor she had alluded to in an article in the Vogue magazine on sexual harassment at the workplace in October 2017. Without identifying Akbar, she detailed alleged unwarranted advances made by him 20 years ago when she was 23 years of age.

Later through the week, several other women journalists made public their stories of alleged misconduct by Akbar amid a barrage of accusations in India’s #MeToo movement, which singed prominent names in India’s entertainment and media business since it erupted at least a couple of weeks ago.

The issue is likely to create political ripples. On Monday, members of the Indian Youth Congress, the youth wing of the Congress, demonstrated near Akbar’s official residence in New Delhi, demanding his resignation. Senior Congress leaders have been demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment on the issue and that strict action be taken against Akbar.

On Sunday, Akbar questioned why the women who had accused him did not report the incidents previously. “This is the reason why no one went to the authorities for so long, because I had done nothing," he said.

“Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge," Akbar said, referring to the elections to be held in five states—Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana—starting 12 November. India is also to go to national polls in 2019.

The last high profile defamation case seen was Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s defamation case (civil and criminal) against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders alleging financial irregularities in the Delhi and District Cricket Association during his tenure as president of the association. The issue resulted in a political slugfest during court hearings and ended abruptly with Kejriwal tendering an apology to Jaitley.

Elizabeth Roche contributed to this story.

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