Union Minister M.J. Akbar on Monday filed a criminal defamation complaint against a woman journalist, Priya Ramani, who had accused him of sexual harassment, alleging that "scandalous allegations" have been made to bring down his image in the society.
Seeking her prosecution under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code that provides for imprisonment for two or more years in case of defamation, the Minister of State for External Affairs filed the complaint in the Patiala House court complex.
Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by several women journalists, including Ramani, who had worked with under him more than 15 years ago. He has denied the charges as "false, wild and baseless".
Reacting to the defamation case, Ramani said she was "deeply disappointed" that the Minister sought to dismiss the detailed allegations of several women as a political conspiracy and by filing the case he was seeking to "silence" the women complainants through intimidation and harassment.
"Needless to say, I am ready to fight allegations of defamation laid against me as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence," she said in a statement.
Several journalist bodies also expressed "deep disappointment" at Akbar's threat of legal action and demanded he must step down for the sake of an impartial probe into the allegations against him.
"In the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it would only be appropriate that the Minister steps down from his post till such time as the inquiry is completed," the Press Club of India, Indian Women Press Corps, South Asian Women in Media and Press Association said in a joint statement.
In his complaint, Akbar said that it was apparent that the false narrative against him was being circulated in a motivated manner and for the fulfilment of an agenda.
Around a dozen women journalists have accused Akbar of sexual harassment and molestation, leading to a growing chorus for his ouster from the government.
Countering the charges, the former Editor of Asian Age claimed that false and defamatory statements which were widely published in the media had caused irreparable loss to his reputation.
He alleged that Ramani wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously defamed him by making a completely false and frivolous statement which has harmed his goodwill and reputation within the political fraternity, media, friends, family, colleagues and society at large.
"That the scandalous allegations levelled by the accused against the complainant (Akbar) herein, by their 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, established after years of toil and hard work, but have also affected the personal reputation of the complainant in the community, friends, family and colleagues, thereby causing him irreparable loss and tremendous distress," said the complaint filed by advocate Sandeep Kapur.
The advocate said that woman journalist had mentioned incidents which allegedly occurred 20 years ago and she had simultaneously admitted that Akbar had not done anything to her.
"It is pertinent to mention that the conduct of the accused person (Ramani), of not taking any action before any authority, qua the alleged incident against the complainant (Akbar) also clearly belies the sanctity of the article and allegations made by the accused person, which evidently goes on to prove that the said defamatory articles are only a figment of her imagination and are only intended to malign the reputation of the complainant," read the complaint.
"...while admitting that the complainant (Akbar) has never done anything to her, the accused has intentionally put forward malicious, fabricated, and salacious imputations to harm the reputation of the complainant."
Akbar listed two senior women journalists -- The Sunday Guardian's Editor Joyeeta Basu and journalist Veenu Sandal -- and four others as witnesses to prove his defamation charges against Ramani.
Advocate Kapur said that Akbar was a veteran journalist and had authored several renowned books. He had a long career in journalism and launched India's first weekly political news magazine, Sunday, in 1976, and two daily newspapers 'The Telegraph' and 'The Asian Age' in 1989 and 1994 respectively.
In a related development, Ghazala Wahab, another woman journalist who has complained against Akbar, on Monday hit back saying "lies do not have legs" and they "do not go far".