New Delhi: A journalist in Tamil Nadu has alleged that the governor, Banwarilal Purohit, ‘patronisingly’ touched her cheek when she asked him a question, without her consent.
Lakshmi Subramanian, special correspondent with The Week, tweeted on April 17:
“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.”
The incident occurred at a press conference at Chennai’s Raj Bhavan, held amidst the controversy around allegations of sexual harassment at the Devanga Arts College in Virudhunagar. Nirmala Devi, the professor at Devanga Arts College who has been accused of making requests for sexual favours to her students on behalf of officials of the Madurai Kamaraj University, had said that she knows the governor. Purohit is the chancellor of the university.
Devi can reportedly be heard saying on an audio clip, “You know how close I was to the governor”. At the press conference, Purohit said these allegations were “nonsense” and “baseless”, and that he has “never seen her face”.
After Subramanian’s tweet, a group of journalists from Tamil Nadu wrote to Purohit about his actions, saying he had “crossed lines of not just basic courtesy but also those of the law”.
The letter continues:
Your action today in touching the cheek of a senior lady reporter who asked you a question at the press meet was patronising at best and a violation of her rights as a woman at worst. She was there since you had called for a press meet and she was simply discharging her duty as a journalist.
We do not wish to question your motives on this gesture, considering that it is appalling that you should choose to do such a thing at a press meet that you addressed on the case of a professor allegedly luring students to sexual encounters with her seniors and who claimed to know you.
The journalists go on to quote the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998, which defines ‘harassment’ as “any indecent conduct or act by a man which causes or is likely to cause intimidation, fear, shame or embarrassment, including abusing or causing hurt or nuisance or assault or use of force”.
Pointing out that the offence is cognisable and non-bailable, the journalists have demanded that Purohit apologise to Subramanian immediately, and also “assure all journalists of Tamil Nadu that you will not violate their rights in the future”.
Subramanian also wrote about the incident in The Week, saying that it had left her “angry and agitated”. She writes:
The press conference was almost over. And when he got up from his chair, a TV reporter quickly managed to grab his attention and asked him about how much progress he had in learning Tamil. Purohit had earlier spoke about his interest in learning the language. He was happy to answer the question. “Thamizh oru inimaiyana mozhi (Tamil is a very sweet language),” he said.
I was standing next to him. “Who is your Tamil teacher,” I asked him. Standing next to me was my friend Lavanya Natarajan of News 7, who also had the same question. Banwarilal Purohit didn’t reply, but moved a step forward. My next question to him was the one that he had refuse to answer earlier. “Sir, you said you are satisfied with the government’s performance. Are you satisfied when it comes to the performance of universities too,” I asked him.
He didn’t hear me at all. Instead, he patted on my left cheek and got away. It was a crowded press conference, and I was transfixed for a moment by that gesture. Lavanya tried to console me.
I rushed to the washroom and washed my face several times. When I narrated my ordeal on Twitter, many trolled me. But there were many who supported me too. And I sincerely thank them.
Working president of opposition part DMK criticised the move on Twitter, saying, “It is not only unfortunate, but unbecoming of a person holding a constitutional post.”
Purohit has responded to Subramanian, saying that he thought her question was a “good one” and patted her on the cheek because he thought of her as his “granddaughter”.
“It was done with appreciation and to express my experience for your performance as a journalist, since I was also a member of the profession for over 40 years. I do understand from your mail that you are feeling hurt about the incident. I wish to express my regret and my apologies to assuage your sentiments that have been hurt,” Purohit has said.
(With PTI inputs)
Note: This article has been updated with Purohit’s response.