Tamil Nadu Governor Apologises for Patting Scribe’s Cheek
(This story was updated at 1.30 pm, April 16, with the Governor’s clarification)
A press meet called by Banwarilal Purohit on Tuesday, 17 April, turned controversial after senior journalist Lakshmi Subramanian tweeted a photo of the Tamil Nadu Governor patting her cheek.
Subramanian’s tweet garnered mixed reactions. While some trolled the journalists, others echoed her allegation that Purohit’s move was both patronising and non-consensual.
In response to a public outcry over his act, the Governor tendered a written apology. He said he had patted her as a ‘gesture of appreciation’ for the question she had posed and also considering her as his granddaughter.
The journalist has tweeted saying she has accepted his apology, but is not convinced about his contention that it was a gesture of appreciation.
The incident took place on Tuesday, 17 April, at the press conference, and Lakshmi’s tweet went viral on social media.
“To you, it might be a mark of appreciation, and a “grandfatherly” gesture, as you replied to several questions during the hour-long press conference on sexual allegations against you. But to me, it was an uninvited gesture as I wanted only answers and not a pat on my cheek,” Subramanian had written earlier in The Week.
Chennai Journalists Up in Arms
Journalists told The Quint that the Governor, a constitutional head, should not have behaved the way he did, and therefore, should offer an apology.
A journalist who has been working in the industry for over a decade said that the incident pained her as it would not have happened with a male peer. The scribe told The Quint:
“This is a violation.. a criminal offence under Section IV of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act,” she said.
The Governor is not the only senior leader who has behaved this way, she alleged. “Even in the past, some top leaders from DMK, AIADMK, CPI have patronised the woman journalist by easily holding hands, rubbing her back, brushing her shoulder,” she said.
“It is this patronising attitude and how the constitutional head wants to get away without answering crucial questions asked by journalists... It is definitely sending different messages – How can he have such a patronising attitude? He is supposed to spread the message of equality but he is not doing that,” she said.
Another journalist, who said was standing near Lakshmi when the incident took place, said he found the Governor’s gesture creepy.
A fraction of journalists also felt that the issue was blown out of proportion and that the Governor ‘did not intend it in a wrong way’. A reporter said,’ We get almost molested at several political meetings but how many journalists speak up and demand apology from the leader? The reporter was having a jovial interaction and there was nothing wrong with the gesture.’
The Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) , a collective of women media professionals across India, strongly condemned the patronising behaviour of the Governor. ‘We would like to reiterate what is understood world over about sexual harassment: The intention of the harasser does not count. What matters is how the person on the receiving end feels. So for the Governor, or any of his supporters, to dismiss any allegations of inappropriate conduct with statements like,“I am old enough to be your grandfather,”cannot be excused,’ read the official statement.
Recently, Tamil Nadu Health Minister Vijaya Bhaskar repeatedly told a woman journalist that she was beautiful to evade her questions.
Netas Slam Guv
DMK leaders Kanimozhi and MK Stalin have also joined the chorus slamming the Governor’s actions.
Other Controversial Moments During the Press Conference
During the press conferendce Governor Purohit dismissed the allegation that he was being probed for sexual misconduct by the Union Home Ministry as “nonsense” and “baseless”.
He denied having any link with the professor who was arrested for allegedly making tacit requests for sexual favours from her students on behalf of officials of the Madurai Kamaraj University.
"I do not know the lady... I am above politics. Strict action will be taken if someone is found guilty. We will get to know only after an inquiry," Governor Purohit was quoted as saying.
He also said that he has not even seen the face of the suspended assistant professor, Nirmala Devi, who has been accused of ‘luring’ four girl students to extend sexual favours to senior university officials.
Governor Purohit had ordered a high-level inquiry into the matter by a retired IAS officer, R Santhanam. Once again, when he was quizzed as to why there were no women in a panel to discuss issues pertaining to women, he brushed aside the questions, saying Santhanam is a capable leader.
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