(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.
I asked TN Governor Banwarilal Purohit a question as his press conference was ending. He decided to patronisingly – and without consent – pat me on the cheek as a reply. @TheWeekLive pic.twitter.com/i1jdd7jEU8— Lakshmi Subramanian (@lakhinathan) April 17, 2018
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.
#TNGovernor apologizes to journalist @lakhinathan and says he had patted her as a gesture of appreciation for the question she had posed and also considering her as his granddaughter. @TheQuint pic.twitter.com/xrLOP16Gi6— Smitha T K (@smitha_tarur) April 18, 2018
The journalist has tweeted saying she has accepted his apology, but is not convinced about his contention that it was a gesture of appreciation.
Your excellency I accept your apology even though I am not convinced about your contention that you did it appreciate a question I asked https://t.co/NNs13wNqNE— Lakshmi Subramanian (@lakhinathan) April 18, 2018
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.
Washed my face several times. Still not able to get rid of it. So agitated and angered Mr Governor Banwarilal Purohit. It might be an act of appreciation by you and grandfatherly attitude. But to me you are wrong.— Lakshmi Subramanian (@lakhinathan) April 17, 2018
" An act like this, moments after he dismissed a barrage of questions about allegations of sexual misconduct against him, is unprofessional behaviour. And, it is completely uncalled for to touch a stranger — a woman — without her consent." - Lakshmi Subramanian in The WeekChennai Journalists Up in Arms
A collective of TN journalists have penned a letter demanding the Governor Banwarilal Purohit to apologize. The letter will be submitted tomorrow at Raj Bhavan after getting signatures from journalists. @lakhinathan #TNGovernor @TheQuint pic.twitter.com/zH7XJM7OJo— Smitha T K (@smitha_tarur) April 17, 2018
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:
"If a male editor with 10 years of experience asks him the same question, do you think he will he pat his cheek? He might just say he doesn’t have an answer. This shows he is ridiculing the question posed by the journalist." -
“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.
“Also, this is about women journalists not being taken seriously on a platform where everyone should be treated equally.”
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.
" Does that mean that in every case where the accused is above a certain age, they should be automatically acquitted or forgiven? " - Network of Women in Media in India
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.
Even if the intention is above suspicion, a person who holds a public office has to understand that there is a decorum to it and violating a woman journalist’s personal space does not reflect the dignity or the respect which should be shown to any human being.— Kanimozhi (கனிமொழி) (@KanimozhiDMK) April 17, 2018
துரதிருஷ்டவசமானது மட்டும் அல்ல . அரசியல் சட்ட பதவியில் இருப்பவரின் தகுதிக்கு துளியும் ஏற்புடையது அல்ல! https://t.co/rjywYVXQQ9— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) April 17, 2018
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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