The Editors Guild of India Thursday asked M J Akbar to withdraw the criminal defamation case he filed against journalist Priya Ramani, as the top editors' body came out in support of the women journalists who have accused him of sexual harassment.
The Guild also offered legal support to women journalists who have levelled the allegations against Akbar in case he does not withdraw the present case or files such cases against other women too.
The Guild's support for the women came a day after Akbar stepped down as the Minister of State for External Affairs in the face of mounting pressure following allegations of sexual harassment against him by several women journalists.
In a statement, the Guild said it salutes the courage shown by several women journalists in bringing to light instances of how they were sexually harassed.
"The resignation of Mr M. J Akbar from Union council of ministers is a result of these women journalists' courage to fight for a high principle: gender equality in the newsroom.
"We hope that Mr Akbar will also display the grace to withdraw the criminal defamation case he has filed against one of these complainants," it said.
While Akbar is entitled to all legal instruments available to a citizen to seek vindication, it would be paradoxical for a veteran editor to employ the instrument of criminal defamation, the Guild said, adding that, "more so for Mr Akbar who happens to be a former president of the Guild".
"But if he doesn't, or in case he files such cases against other women too, the Guild offers its support to them. If any of them were to need legal advice or assistance, the Guild will do the best it can to help and also appeal to eminent lawyers to represent them pro bono," the statement said.
The Guild's statement comes on a day a Delhi court commenced hearing on Akbar's criminal defamation complaint against Ramani, who has accused him of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago.
Akbar on Monday had filed the complaint against Ramani alleging she "wilfully" and "maliciously" made imputations against him with the ulterior motive of maligning his reputation and political standing.
The defamation case filed two days ago led more women and some men too to come forward in their defence of Ramani and others. On Tuesday night, 20 journalists, who had worked at The Asian Age during Akbar's tenure, issued a joint statement against him.