The #MeToo movement gathered pace on Thursday with more women speaking out on sexual harassment at workplace and support pouring from various quarters, including union minister Smriti Irani, even as she said it was for her cabinet colleague M J Akbar to speak on charges against him.
The Mumbai Police began its probe against actor Nana Patekar, dance director Ganesh Acharya and two others on a complaint filed by actor Tanushree Dutta, even as fresh sexual harassment allegations tumbled out including against actors, journalists and advertising professionals.
While demands continued for action against union minister M J Akbar, who has been accused by several former female colleagues of sexual harassment when he served as an editor at various media organisations, the government and the ruling BJP leaders maintained it was for him to speak on the issue.
While the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad refused to answer questions relating to the journalist-turned-politician, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani said on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai that it was for the Minister of State for External Affairs, to respond to the charges even as she favoured justice for the "ladies who are speaking out".
Akbar, who is on a trip abroad and is scheduled to return on Sunday, has not spoken as yet on the charges against him.
A BJP leader said the party expects Akbar to offer an explanation to the party's top brass on the allegations against him before it takes a call on his future.
The party leader said the allegations were serious but there were several aspects to it, including that there was no legal case against him.
While some opposition parties including CPI(M) and Shiv Sena demanded Akbar's resignation, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the #MeToo campaign is a "very big issue", but he will comment on that in detail at a press conference later.
Some BJP leaders are of the view that the charges against Akbar would do no good to the party's image in the run-up to crucial state assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, more so when the party has gone on an overdrive to highlight the Narendra Modi government's "pro-women credentials".
Incidentally, the women's wing of the saffron party will embark on a five-day relay marathon from Friday to publicise the pro-women schemes of the government.
Irani, a former TV actress and herself a vocal politician, urged people not to mock the women who are speaking out against the harassment meted out to them.
She said women do not go to work to be harassed but to work to live their dreams and earn a respectable living and it must be very difficult for them to come out and talk about whatever happened in their professional lives.
A top RSS functionary also appeared to support the #MeToo movement, currently sweeping the country's landscape.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Joint General Secretary Dattatreya Hosabale expressed his opinion on the #MeToo movement by sharing a Facebook post of Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director of the social networking site, on his Twitter account.
Das in her post had said, "You needn't have a #MeToo moment to support the woman journalists who have narrated their victimisation. You needn't even be a woman. You just need to have a sensibility of what is right and what is wrong."
Hosabale, who is seen as a moderate face of the saffron organisation, tweeted her post and said, "I liked it. She has articulated what I was feeling."
In Kolkata, BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvergiya said Akbar is part of the
government and it is for the government to decide.
BJP MP Udit Raj, who recently termed the #MeToo movement a "wrong practice", again questioned what if complaints outing men for allegedly sexually harassing women proved wrong and the prestige of a man was destroyed.
Meanwhile, a case relating to the #MeToo campaign reached the Delhi High Court with some persons facing accusations of sexual harassment seeking to restrain the accuser from airing her alleged ordeal on social media or any other platform.
In Mumbai, the police said it will record statements of witnesses before summoning Patekar and three others in connection with the complaint filed by Tanushree Dutta, whose allegations against fellow actor is being seen as having kickstarted the #MeToo movement in India.
Dutta has accused Patekar of touching her inappropriately on the sets of a Bollywood film in 2008. She filed a police complaint in the matter last Saturday.
A police official said the investigation is at a preliminary stage and all facts need to be verified fist as it was a 10-year-old case.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) said it wanted a "fair" investigation into allegations against Patekar.
As fresh cases continued to be naratted, writer-director Piyush Mishra was accused by a former newspaper staffer of inappropriate behaviour during a party. Mishra said he was probably a "few drinks down" and apologised if he made the "lady uncomfortable".
Actor Deepika Amin said Alok Nath's reputation of an alcoholic and a harasser was common knowledge in the Hindi film and television industry.
Amin, who recently worked with Nath in "Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety", said several years ago the actor tried to "barge into her room" when they were shooting outdoors for a telefilm.
Actor Himani Shivpuri said Alok Nath was like "Jekyll and Hyde" whose predatory behaviour was an "open secret" in the industry and has become public now.
(With inputs from agencies.)