Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit courted controversy on Tuesday when he patted a journalist’s cheek in response to a question she had asked him. Purohit was addressing a press conference at Raj Bhawan in Chennai to deny any link with a professor accused of luring female students of a college for sex work.

The journalist later tweeted that the governor had patted her cheek without consent. “I asked Purohit a question as his press conference was ending,” she said. “He decided to patronisingly – and without consent – pat me on the cheek as a reply.”

“This, moments after he dismissed a barrage of questions about allegations of sexual misconduct against himself,” she added. “Unprofessional behaviour – and completely uncalled for to touch a stranger without her consent, especially a woman.”

The journalist said she had washed her face several times, but was still “unable to get rid of it”. “It might be an act of appreciation by you and grandfatherly attitude. But to me you are wrong,” she said in her tweet addressing Purohit.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Kanimozhi said the governor had violated a woman’s personal space. “Even if the intention is above suspicion, a person who holds a public office has to understand that there is a decorum to it,” she said in a tweet. “Violating a woman journalist’s personal space does not reflect the dignity which should be shown to any human being.”

Purohit said the pat was a sign of affection towards someone he considered to be like his granddaughter. “I do understand from you mail that you are feeling hurt about the incident,” the governor said in a statement. “I wish to express my regret and apologies to assuage your sentiments that have been hurt.”