As an eight-year-old, I was surprisingly chosen by my school to hand over some flowers to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at a function in Ambala Cantt. I remember being all keyed up and excited, and when they called out my name to make the presentation, I dropped the bouquet and got all flustered. It's one of my cherished memories that the then Prime Minister of India bent down to help me pick up the roses (never is a man so tall as when he stoops to help a child) and he ruffled my hair and patted me on the cheek.
I wasn't offended or shocked, nor did I reel with horror. That kind of avuncular fondness was normal, or perhaps those were benign times. Uncles and aunts hugged and kissed and messed your hair and chucked your cheeks and you got out of the way if you got sick of it.
Somewhere along the way, we lost that innocence and got corrupted. Now everyone is suspect and even the most normal gestures are given an ugly twist.
I hold no truck for Tamil Nadu governor Banwarilal Purohit and him patting the cheek of a female journalist during a press conference. It was unprofessional and perhaps it wasn't necessary; had Nehru done the same to me today, maybe I could run an article on whether such action is indicative of pedophilia.
Herein lies the rub. Be offended if you must, but to make it a cause celebre is definitely not called for and the skies have not fallen. Every person knows when a touch is inappropriate. Women and children sense at once when something is uncomfortable, and they should be encouraged to be sensitive and safe. Being groped in a bus, bumped against in a shop — all those hideous things that men do to women — those should be fought against with all our might. At every step.
But the fight loses its steam when we trivialise it by ballooning a non-incident into a major catastrophe. You cannot give this incident the same weightage in the media as the rape of a minor. The journalist Lakshmi Subramanian didn't win the Pulitzer Prize; she just had a man, old enough to be her father, pat her cheek in front of a crowded conference. A liberty, sure, but what was the provocation to make it a national headline? Is it truly such an issue in the grand scheme of things? In a fashion, we have also embarrassed her, because she is now famous for all the wrong reasons, and after the initial high, it's not a pleasant sensation.
Brave and courageous as we journalists are, we choose our battles. The offense would have been much less if one of those mega powerful chief ministers was involved. Because they make dangerous enemies and can hit back. The tendency to lam into comparatively weak governors to display our badges of valour is pretty common, they are far easier game than ministers who have gangs at their disposal, and you don't want to be on the receiving end of that.
'Asking a series of tough questions' is another way of saying that the tone was hectoring and probably rude. The 78-year-old governor could simply have softened the attack. What if it was Narendra Modi, or former US president Barack Obama, or Russian president Vladimir Putin who had done the same thing? Would the sexual misconduct accusation have come up, or would we have had a good laugh and carried on regardless? Notice how I left Donald Trump out though?
For sure, the sexcapade scandal with a teacher mentioning the same governor while trawling campuses for girls for VIPs has just blown up and will continue to capture attention for a while, and is instrumental as a cause in criticising the governor. But till that teacher makes a direct accusation against him for asking sexual favours, he has to be given the benefit of doubt.
His argument that he is never alone is a scathing indictment of the manpower employed to keep these gubernatorial princes in luxury, but could also serve as his alibi. And if girls were being smuggled into Raj Bhavan, even the tea-boy would know about it.
Truth will come out. Till then, hold your fire but don't turn the other cheek.
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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2018 16:13:45 IST