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Indian government minister MJ Akbar resigns to fight harassment claims

India’s junior foreign minister MJ Akbar has resigned following accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

Mr Akbar, a former newspaper editor, has been accused of harassment by 20 women and has filed a defamation suit against one of his accusers.

He says he is resigning in order to fight the allegations which are said to have taken place before he entered politics.

“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 levied against me in a personal capacity,” he told a Reuters partner agency.

His resignation follows an expansion of the #MeToo movement from Hollywood to Bollywood, with top Indian film stars and politicians being accused of sexual assault.

Indian society is even more patriarchal than those in the West, and allegations against men in power are frequently not taken seriously by the authorities.

Even if those cases make it to court, intimidation of victims and coercion of witnesses is commonplace.

Actress Tanushree Dutta recently accused her award-winning co-star Nana Patekar of sexual harassment on a film set 10 years ago.

At the time, she left the set of Horn Ok Pleassss and made an official complaint, but little public attention was paid to her criticisms until the #MeToo movement began to pick up pace in the country.

Patekar denies the charges.

Tanushree Dutta has helped kick off India's #MeToo movement
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Actress Tanushree Dutta helped kick off India’s #MeToo movement

Indian actresses and politicians are now giving their support to those who speak out.

In a tweet on Friday, Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party, said: “It’s about time everyone learns to treat women with respect and dignity. I’m glad the space for those who don’t is closing.”

Since Dutta spoke out, other actresses have subsequently come forward to open up about their experiences in the industry.

Director Sajid Khan has been accused by two women of sexual abuse, prompting him to step down from Housefull 4, a popular comedy film franchise.

Writer Vinita Nanda accused actor Alok Nath of rape and sexual misconduct in 1998, saying the incident made her depressed and mentally disturbed, causing her to leave the film industry.

She added that she is now emboldened and is “not afraid” of anymore following the #MeToo movement.

Other women have also alleged sexual misconduct and drunken behaviour by Nath, who has neither denied or confirmed the incident, saying he will speak at the right moment.

The Indian Film and TV Directors Association has said it stands by victims and has issued a notice to Nath to address the allegations.

Several other famous Bollywood actors and directors have faced accusations, including Vikas Bahl, Vivek Agnihotri, Rajat Kapoor, Satadru Otha, Fahad Shah and Anurag Varma.

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