The MJ Akbar playbook: Men look back at how he preyed on women colleagues in newsrooms and got away

It’s a case that is being described as “India’s Women vs MJ Akbar”. Beginning with veteran journalist Priya Ramani, 16 women have gone public this month with sexual harassment allegations against former Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar. After Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani, 17 more women who worked in a newspaper he had founded put out a statement accusing the journalist-turned-politician of encouraging a culture of misogyny and harassment. In the outpouring, one set of voices has been largely missing: where are the men?

The stories of Akbar’s predatory behaviour that have now emerged span three decades. They start with The Telegraph, a newspaper he founded in 1982, grow more frequent during his years at The Asian Age, another paper he established, and spill all the way into his last journalistic job at the India Today, which ended in 2014. Over the course of his decades in journalism, Akbar worked with numerous men and women. If everyone knew about his behaviour, how come no one brought it up earlier? And why, even now, does it seem like it is largely the women who are speaking up about what Akbar did?

Reported for this story on MJ Akbar, an editor outed in India’s #MeToo protests, for this report by my fab colleague Rohan Venkataramakrishnan.

Sand mining in Tamil Nadu is incredibly destructive – but it’s also unstoppable

For the longest time, V Chandrasekhar fought a lonely battle.

When sand miners first came to his village near Pondicherry in the 1980s, most of his fellow villagers stayed quiet. They stayed quiet when the local riverbed went down by 30 feet, local groundwater levels collapsed, wells dried out and then filled up with saline water as sea-water moved into the space vacated by freshwater aquifers. They stayed quiet even when the miners began disturbing the dead. “We bury our dead on the river bank,” said Chandrasekhar, “and body parts were getting disinterred.”

The villager-turned-activist knocked on other doors. But to no avail. Local bureaucrats and police officials did not help. He had a short-lived glimpse of victory in 2010 when he turned to the courts, petitioning the civil court and then the Madras High Court. The High Court issued an order staying sand mining. But, Chandrasekhar said, the state did not implement it. He filed a case in the National Green Tribunal at Chennai which gave another favourable order. That was not followed either.

Welcome to one of the more intriguing dimensions of sand mining in Tamil Nadu. As the previous story in this series reported, rampant sand mining has hurt the state in several ways. It has damaged rivers, contributed to a collapse of groundwater levels and imperilled farming livelihoods. With the industry functioning through subcontractors who illegally stockpile and sell sand, the state is believed to have lost thousands of crores as revenue each year.

It raises a large question: how could something so harmful continue so long? As the first story in this series reported, successive state governments have supported the trade. But why did the other checks and balances – local communities, rival political parties, media and courts – fail to oppose sand mining?

This story, which is the third and final in the series, attempts to answer that.

What does Tamil Nadu’s experience with sand mining tell us about our society’s ability to challenge/stop environmental damage? As Scroll’s #eartotheground project did its reporting into sand mining, this question loomed larger and larger. This story, the third in our series, is what we concluded.

Why Odisha sees little protest despite the state’s poor public services

Stay in Odisha for a bit and you will run into a puzzle.

Despite healthy finances, the state is failing to provide basic services to its people. Its schools and hospitals are badly understaffed. Jobs are not easy to find, as a result of which young people are getting disillusioned with education itself. Welfare programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme work only on paper.

While the state saw an iron ore boom over the last decade, government’s policies ensured only a handful of people became rich. Most stayed unaffected. Some ended up poorer. During the same period, the state also saw a chit fund boom in which middle- and low-income families lost money.

Despite this streak of state failure, the state’s people continue to be silent.

a wrap of all our #eartotheground reporting from odisha. this is the second wrap — the first was on mizoram.