Tamil Nadu Governor Purohit who owns ‘The Hitavada’ daily and ‘Prof.’ Nirmala Devi
IS A STRANGE EXPERIENCE to see someone you know personally being trolled and an incident involving him/her being blown out of proportion.
The Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit, finds himself (to put it in the words of a newspaper) in “yet another” controversy (as if he has been the perpetrator of many scams) when he patted the cheek of a woman reporter after she asked a question as his
press conference ended and he was leaving. The “controversy” about which many reporters “sought clarification” was a remark by Nirmala Devi, the assistant professor of a college whose voice clipping asking college girls to please university officials sexually to get better marks went viral. She had said she was once present on a dais from which the Governor, Banwarilal Purohit, spoke. Many questions were asked implying, suggesting, or questioning, the governor’s involvement in some racket with the professor. Nirmala has been arrested on charges of luring four girl students to extend sexual favours to university officials.
Having worked for 15 years as a news agency head in a city where Purohit brought out an English daily and ran Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan schools with several branches (where a majority of teachers are women) and knowing several journalists, including women, who worked in his newspaper, I had never heard of his behaving inappropriately with women or having any ‘affairs’.
Such matters, even when not published or exposed, cannot be hidden. There are always whispers about them – and there were none about Purohit. A businessman, he had taken over the newspaper from a politician who was notorious not only as a “hero” of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi but also for making advances to a film actress, among other things.
The Press, which had no guts to oppose the Congress minister then, was trying to make out as if Purohit had some link to the woman professor simply because, as the Chancellor of all universities in his State, he happened to address a meeting from a stage on which she was also seated. As soon as the clip about her “advice” to the college girls went viral he had, as Chancellor of the university, he ordered a probe.
Touching someone “without permission” is, of course, not at all proper. The Chennai Press Club found his action an “outrageous” and “unbecoming conduct,” which was “neither exemplary nor condonable”.
An apology was demanded and it was sent, signed by Purohit himself, by the Raj Bhavan immediately to the woman journalist who made a big issue of it on the social media, narrating how she felt violated and washed her face many many times after the incident. She also sent a protest mail, though she too felt his action was ‘grandfatherly’.
He mailed back, “I considered that question to be a good one. Therefore, as an act of appreciation for the question…I gave a pat on your cheek considering you to be like my granddaughter.” In his letter of apology, the Governor said he was in the print media for 40 years and that the “pat on cheek” was done with affection to express his appreciation for her question, which came too late to be answered.
“I do understand from your mail that you feel hurt about the incident. I wish to express my regret and my apologies to assuage your sentiments that have been hurt,” Purohit added.
It is true that women in India do not like to be touched – even handshakes are normally replaced by the joining of hands in ‘Namaste’. Purhohit’s act was patronizing and many do not like it. I recall a former Chief Minister and an ex-Minister (incidentally both died in accidents) talking to me with hands on my shoulders as if they were my friends, –though I disagreed with both. And they did not even know me well. Pats on the back were too many to be remembered.
But then it was not considered inappropriate. Neither was a former President’s reply (to a query by reporters why he always spoke exclusively to a particular woman reporter): “You wear saaris and come, I will tell you.” It was meant to be a joke and taken so.
Being patronizing is disliked. It may probably be an issue of cultural gap; Banwarilal Purohit comes from Maharashtra where the segregation of the sexes is not as severe as in the South. His association with a saffron party may be another (and perhaps the main) reason. It could also be a hangover from the days when very few women were in the media, while they perhaps outnumber men now.
Whatever it is, his intentions cannot be doubted to blow a non-issue blown out of proportions by a Press with priorities mixed up.