Cheeky in Chennai: TN Governor pats Woman Reporter’s cheek at Press Conference

Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit is in hot water after he patted the cheek of The Week journalist Lakshmi Subramanian at a press conference on Tuesday, April 17. Oddly enough, the press conference was held in a bid to clear Purohit’s name over a scandal involving Professor Nirmala Devi of Devanga Arts College, who is alleged to have implicitly sought sexual favours from students on behalf of Madurai Kamaraj University officials. She had claimed to know Purohit, who is the university’s chancellor. Purohit has denied knowing her. 

Image: The Week

Subramanian, who is a journalist at The Week, tweeted that she asked Purohit “a question as his press conference was ending. He decided to patronisingly – and without consent – pat me on the cheek as a reply.” Her tweet was accompanied by a photograph depicting Purohit patting Subramanian on the cheek. Following this tweet, Subramanian tweeted, “This, moments after he dismissed a barrage of questions about allegations of sexual misconduct against himself. Unprofessional behaviour – and completely uncalled for to touch a stranger without her consent, especially a woman.” 

In a first-person account for The Week, Subramanian writes that during the press conference, she asked Purohit three to four questions about allegations of sexual misconduct and reports regarding home ministry enquiry against him, noting that Purohit responded, calling these “nonsense and baseless allegation.” When asked about Professor Nirmala Devi, Subramanian says Purohit said, “I haven’t even seen her face.”

As the press conference was ending, Subramanian explains that another reporter managed to get Purohit’s attention, asking him about his progress in learning Tamil, to which Purohit responded. Subramanian followed up, asking Purohit about his Tamil teacher, and she wrote that a friend and fellow reporter also asked the same question, but Purohit did not respond. Subramanian then said she asked the governor if he was satisfied with the performance of the government, and that of the universities. “He didn’t hear me at all. Instead, he patted on my left cheek and got away,” she writes. 

The incident has prompted a hashtag, #DontTouchMeGovernor, with political leaders responding. “It is not only unfortunate, but unbecoming of a person holding a constitutional post,” tweeted DMK Working President MK Stalin. DMK Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi tweeted, “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.” 

The Chennai Press Club has written a letter to Governor Purohit, condemning his behaviour. Joint Secretary Bharathi Thamizhan notes that although Purohit could claim that his was “an innocuous gesture from an elderly man, the law says otherwise.” Thamizhan cites the Indian Penal Code regarding “outraging the modesty of a woman.”  says, “Journalists, particularly woman journalists work in very difficult circumstances and face immense hardships in their day to day duty. Particularly it is very difficult for a woman journalist to survive in a man’s world and survive the odds.” Thamizhan has called on Purohit to issue an immediate apology for his conduct. 

In her piece, Subramanian writes, “I want to say, yes I am agitated. Many may ask me to dismiss the entire episode saying, ‘may be, this was a pat of appreciation’ or ‘a grandfatherly gesture’. But to me, Banwarilal Purohit is the governor of a state, and I am a journalist whose responsibility is to ask the right questions. I expect answers, not a pat on my cheek.”.



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