Guv’s behaviour diminishes office

Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s inappropriate touching of a woman journalist during a press conference recently at the Raj Bhavan in Chennai is utterly reprehensible. Ironically, the press conference was regarding the governor’s alleged link to a sex-for-degrees scandal at the Madurai Kamaraj University. At the press conference, Purohit vehemently denied such links. When the journalist asked him a question, the governor patted her cheek. His behaviour is unacceptable at several levels. For one, he should have answered the question with a verbal response. By brushing it aside, he dodged the issue. Worse were the sexual undertones of his ‘response’ to the journalist. Patting the scribe’s cheek, whether it was with or without her consent, is unprofessional conduct as is his attempt at diminishing her professionally. Under fire from the media and opposition political parties, Purohit apologised and then sought to explain away his misconduct by claiming that he was only expressing his affection towards the journalist and appreciating her question. The journalist has since accepted his apology but said in no uncertain terms that his justification did not cut ice. Meanwhile, actor-turned-BJP politician S Ve Shekher put up an offensive FaceBook post about journalists, with derogatory comments on women journalists, in particular.

The incidents involving Purohit and Shekher, which come at a time when India and the world are deeply agitated over the brutal sexual violence being unleashed routinely against minor girls and women in this country, underscore the fact that misogyny and patriarchy are deeply entrenched in our mindsets and societal attitudes. It is such attitudes that encourage sexual predators to engage in violence against women and girls. Purohit and Shekher’s conduct lay bare yet again the everyday sexual violence, whether verbal, emotional or physical that women are subject to at home, work or on the streets, and increasingly on social media. It is time that men and boys internalise the fact that staring at a woman inappropriately, patting her, even if only paternally, or making sexual innuendoes are unacceptable. As colleagues at the workplace, they should be treated professionally. Patronising women, diminishing their opinion with a supposedly ‘paternal’ pat or a ‘grandfatherly’ hug or comments are uncalled for.

There is no doubt that Purohit’s conduct has diminished the stature of the governor’s office. A probe has been ordered into the sex scandal at Mudarai Kamaraj University, of which he is the chancellor. There is valid concern that the probe is an eyewash. Will it end up as an attempt at whitewashing those in positions of power? If Purohit is found guilty, he must step down. Robust action under the law against sexual predators, however ‘minor’ their predation may be, is necessary to deter others.

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