A US-based journalist working with CNN has come out and accused Union Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar of sexual harassment. Majlie de Puy Kamp has revealed that she was sexually harassed by Akbar in 2007 when she was an 18-year-old intern at Asian Age newspaper. “I extended my hand to him in gratitude, [but] he shoved his 55-year-old tongue down my 18-year-old throat,” she wrote on Twitter.
In an e-mail interview, Kamp told India Today TV why she decided to talk about the incident now. She also revealed what Akbar said when her parents confronted him years ago.
India Today TV: We aren’t going to ask you to recount every detail of your harrowing encounter with MJ Akbar, but whatever you can share with us…how shocking was the episode for you?
Kamp: My role at the Asian Age at the time included taking printed wire photos up to MJ Akbar’s office so he could pick one for the front page. I did that every day for months. He always sat behind his big wooden desk and his office was always very cold, the AC was blasting. I don’t remember too much conversation from these meetings, I think at times he would discuss current affairs with me, but they generally didn’t last very long.
On my last day, I went up to his office again with a stack of photos. I’m sure I must have thanked him for giving me the opportunity to work at the Asian Age at such a young age and must have told him that it was my last day. He then walked around his desk to where I was sitting. I extended my hand to shake his but he instead grabbed my arms, pulled me in and kissed me on my mouth, forcing his tongue between my lips. I froze completely. I’m not sure how long it lasted but at some point, he let go. I don’t think I said anything but immediately made a beeline for the door.
I went outside and someone from the office followed me, noticing I looked upset. I told them what happened and they said I wasn’t the first or the only one to suffer this. I may have called my parents right then or maybe at the end of the day when I went back home.
India Today TV: Prior to this incident, during your internship at the Asian Age did you ever notice anything in his behaviour that you red-flagged in your mind?
Kamp: I can’t say that I noticed any red flags, and if I did back then I can’t remember them now. I know I was intimidated by him and I know that I often felt watched by other men in the newsroom (I was the only white person there at the time) which made me uncomfortable. But I can’t recall any specific behavior from MJ Akbar that made me nervous.
India Today TV: One of the most common questions being asked of the women who’ve spoken out is why now? What do you have to say to those asking the question?
Kamp: When it happened, it was absolutely disgusting and my mother remembers me being very upset about it when I called her. But I never thought of saying something because I can’t say that it affected my life in any serious way.
I may have become more cautious, or maybe I just grew older and wiser — I don’t know. I spoke up now because as a journalist I ask people on a daily basis to share intimate stories with me and I felt I couldn’t continue to do my job with integrity if I kept quiet about this when Twitter started to explode with allegations against him.
Being a foreigner and living far away from Akbar’s influence, I felt I needed to speak up even though my experience fades completely in comparison to the accounts of others. My experience luckily didn’t colour my life, but it does contribute to showing a pattern of behavior and hopefully, the women who’ve really suffered at his hands feel supported by others speaking out.
India Today TV: When your parents, who were known to MJ Akbar, raised the matter with him, what did he say?
Kamp: Check his response in the Huffpost piece, it’s quoted there. It’s basically two lines, but interestingly he doesn’t actually deny anything. [HuffPost reviewed emails between Kamp’s father and Akbar in which he wrote, “These are issues which are so prone to misunderstanding, that there is no point debating them. My profoundest apologies if there was anything inappropriate.”]
India Today TV: You may have come across other accounts about MJ Akbar shared by some women journalists here in India. How did you feel when you first read them?
Kamp: I felt a sense of relief and guilt at the same time. It was heartbreaking to read the stories thinking if I had made a bigger scene 12 years ago, maybe none of them would have happened.
India Today TV: Do you think, given the serious nature of allegations against him, by close to 10 women, Akbar should step down as a minister? What sort of action you’d hope the Indian government takes in the light of these allegations?
Kamp: Based on my personal experience with him, I don’t think MJ Akbar should be in any position of power. But the Indian government can’t take action based on my personal experience obviously. They will need to do a proper, impartial and thorough investigation of all the allegations. If any of the allegations are proven to be true, I think MJ Akbar should be relieved from his duties. Needless to say, until an investigation clears him, I think he should step down.