Just days before the Indian men’s and women’s hockey squads head to Rio for the Brazil Olympics, the two team captains have been changed for different reasons that highlight the sexism at Hockey India (HI), the national governing body for the sport.
Sardar Singh, a player in the Indian men’s hockey team, was dropped as captain. Or maybe, as a kinder report says, he “relinquished the role of captain”. But what this report on the new line-ups ahead of the Rio Olympics doesn’t say, is that Singh has had serious allegations of rape and domestic violence levelled at him, which have been public for several months, but has still faced no action from the management of HI. Instead, if the HI has its way, Singh will continue to play for the Indian team at the Olympics, protected by a thick wall of silence from the team management and the officials at HI.
The latest development in Singh’s case is that his 21-year-old former fiancée, a British national of Asian origin and a professional hockey player in the UK, has moved an application in a Delhi court seeking action against Singh. Despite her approaching the Punjab police as far back as January in an attempt to seek action, no FIR was registered against Singh, although by law, a serious charge like rape requires the filing of an FIR under the IPC before an investigation. Instead, police said they were probing the allegations, and months later instituted an SIT probe into a single, specific aspect of her complaint — incidents of sexual abuse at Bhaini Sahib, home of the Namdhari sect in Punjab.
In May, Ludhiana Police Commissioner JS Aulakh told a newspaper, “None of the allegations by the woman have been found to be authentic. We enquired with Bhaini Sahib dera if they both (Sardar Singh and the woman) stayed overnight there. The woman had alleged that Sardar sexually abused her during their meetings at Bhaini Sahib. But our probe shows they never stayed there overnight. Nothing of sexual harassment sort has been proved at Bhaini Sahib. From our side, investigation is complete, the complaint is disposed of and no proof was found against Sardar Singh.”
Based on that probe, in which the police decided that no sexual abuse took place as the couple did not stay overnight at Bhaini Sahib, they declared that all charges against Singh were false. For action in the case of incidents reported by the complainant that took place in Haryana, they suggested she approach the Haryana police — in which Singh is a senior officer with the rank of Deputy Superintendent. (Even though the woman did not take her complaint to the Haryana police, it makes us wonder — shouldn’t the Haryana police be taking cognisance of a serious complaint against one of their own officers?)
With no action taken against Singh months after approaching Punjab police (the complainant told The Ladies Finger she approached the UK police in November 2015, but was advised by them to file her case in India as they’d have no jurisdiction in the case), the complainant met with the Delhi Commission for Women, after which her case began to move forward.
On 15th June 2016, Swati Maliwal, head of the DCW, recommended the registration of an FIR, and accompanied the complainant to Chanakyapuri police station in Delhi to register her complaint of offenses that took place in Delhi; specifically incidents at the Ashoka Hotel in October 2014 in which the complainant alleges she was physically and sexually assaulted by Singh, and nearly pushed out of the window of the room they were staying in on the top floor, and at Park Hotel a few months later, when he assaulted her before they were to make a public appearance in support of an NGO.
With the Delhi police still taking no action in the matter, Maliwal met Sushma Swaraj, Minister For External Affairs on 27th June, asking her to intervene and to fast-track a probe in the case. In a letter submitted to Swaraj, Maliwal wrote that though “the sordid tale of exploitation” was clear, the Delhi Commission for Women was not passing judgment on the merits of the complainant’s allegations, but stressed that filing an FIR under the relevant sections of the IPC was a legal right, irrespective of the complainant’s nationality.
In addition, the DCW issued a notice to HI on 14th June, asking why no action had been taken against Sardar Singh despite the serious charges against him. The 24-page document includes the complainant’s long, detailed complaint to the DCW spanning several incidents of abuse by Singh beginning in the Netherlands in November 2013, soon after which her father contacted HI CEO Elena Norman and president Narinder Batra to bring it to their notice. It goes on to recount more horrific incidents in India and abroad, listing eyewitnesses — some of them Singh’s family, teammates, and HI officials themselves — citing email records and other evidence where possible. The document also includes a letter from the complainant to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, to which photos of bruises and injuries were attached.
On June 22nd, the same day the DCW issued a legal notice to the Delhi police seeking explanation of why an FIR had still not been registered, HI went on the offensive delivering a rude response to the DCW in which it made clear it would not take any action until after the team returned from the Olympics on 23rd August.
In this shocking reply, HI said it would need 10 weeks to get back to them, accusing the complainant of filing her case at a “belated stage” in May 2016, and of having “vengeance” and a “vendetta” in trying to prevent Singh from participating in the Olympics. In what seems like a deliberate misreading of the notice, HI said, “It seems the complainant is alleging rape, physical abuse and criminal intimidation as long back as in the year 2015. It is also pertinent to note that according to your own notice, the complainant for the first time flagged the incident in May 2016.” This is untrue — DCW’s notice points out that HI has known of Singh’s abuse since the complainant’s father told them about it in 2013.
HI’s letter, signed by Executive Director RK Srivastava, also comes with a generous dose of the bizarre. It attacks DCW head Maliwal personally, saying in bold lettering, “We know of your political affiliation and background that you belong to AAM AADMI PARTY, we would appreciate if you leave your political jugglery out of Delhi Commission for women and handle this issue on merit instead of scoring some political brownie points to please your bosses in the political party you are affiliated with [sic]. If you still wish to persist with this falsehood you will then open yourself up for action since your acts are not in good faith.”
The DCW, which has termed HI’s “defamatory allegations” “false and malicious”, rejected their request for 10 weeks to respond, and warned it would face action if there was no response in 7 days, which has already lapsed.
Repeated attempts to reach HI CEO Elena Norman (who is also Member-Convener of their sexual harassment committee) as well as DCW head Maliwal over the phone and on email over the course of a week went unanswered.
On 8th July, the complainant deposed before a magistrate in a Delhi court, who will record the rest of her complaint on July 15th. BS Joon, the lawyer representing her, said that they were moving an application under Section 156(3) of the CrPC, under which a magistrate can order the filing of an FIR and an inquiry if he/she sees fit. “We are focusing on the Ashoka Hotel and Park Hotel incidents,” he said, adding that all other incidents — including one in Belgium to which some of Singh’s teammates admitted to having seen the complainant bruised and battered, and which culminated in the arrival of Belgian police — would serve as supporting evidence.
“I know I’ll get justice,” the complainant told The Ladies Finger soon after the back-and-forth between HI and the DCW. She sounded frustrated and angry, and upset with the police in Punjab and Delhi, who had thrown every obstacle in her path, ignoring her complaints and asking her to show up repeatedly to record her statement. She had had to take time off from her hockey career to move to India to pursue the case against Singh, and hadn’t been able to train for months, she said. But she didn’t sound defeated.
A day before we spoke, one Twitter user commented that if she was “lying n vindictive” then she should be punished, as should Sardar if he was found guilty. The complainant responded, pointing out that she had thought hard before filing a complaint — it wasn’t just Singh’s reputation on the line but hers as well, as she was a public figure too, she reminded him.
But the idea of the complainant being a vindictive lover unable to handle being jilted has been a favourite in the public imagination. Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta even dismissed the woman’s complaint as being the byproduct of a break-up, forgetting that allegations of rape and domestic abuse are allegations of criminal activity.
Please, please stay out of this DCW. Ridiculous to criminalise a break-up mature adults shd be left to deal with https://t.co/uxVCAexiwO
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) June 28, 2016
Meanwhile, Singh has denied that the couple was ever engaged, although the complainant says she has plenty of evidence to the contrary.
At first, HI attempted to distance themselves from the Sardar Singh saga in public, calling it a private affair. But it’s clear that HI’s parameters for what constitutes a private affair and what doesn’t are not clearly defined.
This week, the women’s hockey world has been rocked by the news that captain Ritu Rani will not be on the team for the Olympics, reportedly because of her inability to improve her performance and poor attitude, according to anonymous sources quoted in the media. She’d taken time off to get engaged on July 1, which an unnamed hockey official reportedly suggested meant that her attention was being diverted from sport. (HI appears to have no worries about Singh’s attention being diverted by turbulence in his private life, or the threat of arrest.)
Multi-millionaire president Narinder Batra called Ritu Rani’s leaving of the Bangalore training camp (one report claims she “left in a huff”) before the official announcement “immature”, even though she asserts that it was her coach, Neil Hawgood, who asked her to leave. A surprising about-turn from the man who said to ESPN in March 2016, “Ritu just gives us a work-rate that is second to no one else in the world…I think we’ve got to be careful with her because every game [that] she turns up [for], she gives us that performance. We need to manage her now going into the Olympics.” Former national men’s hockey player Ashish Ballal has said he believes the team management has been unfair to her, and should have treated her better.
In stark contrast, HI’s closed in a protective wall around Singh, about whom one reporter said just days ago, “It has been felt for sometime that Sardar isn’t the presence he used to be.”
Finally, it appears Singh has been dropped as captain — perhaps in a belated attempt to address the growing pressure on HI in his case — but not from the team, not like a hot potato, not like Ritu Rani, whose exit has been accompanied by mean-spirited anonymous interviews from within. Instead, his coach who, like other HI officials, has not referred to the charges against him when talking about his performance or being dropped from the captaincy said, “Sardar was taking too much responsibilities because of which he was not performing at the level that is expected of him.”
Perhaps HI believes that if they don’t address the charges, they’ll magically disappear.
Photos courtesy official Facebook pages of Sardar Singh and Ritu Rani.