New Delhi: Sadalpur was just another nondescript village in Haryana’s Hisar district until a few years ago. Then a few young women from the village rose to represent Indian football at the international level in junior categories in 2016, and Sadalpur stamped its name in the public consciousness.
Eight women from the village are currently training in Goa in preparation for next year’s U-17 FIFA World Cup, but some recent developments are threatening to derail this growing hub of women’s football.
Last week, an FIR was filed against Vinod Loyal, the football coach who has been heralded for bringing these young women into limelight. The charges against him are serious — sexual harassment under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The allegations against Loyal came to light last month when an audio conversation between one of the young players from Sadalpur and a man from the nearby Chuli Bagdiyan village went viral.
The audio exposed alleged sexual harassment of at least eight young women by the private football coach. One of them filed the case on 3 July.
Loyal went absconding but his family filed a counter case against the victim, bringing controversy at the doorstep of this village in Haryana.
On 10 June this year, an audio surfaced in which one of the eight women can be purportedly heard as saying that she and other young women were sexually harassed by Vinod Loyal.
The young woman can be further heard saying the coach used to sleep naked next to them and even used to show them pornographic videos.
The man she was speaking to was booked on 15 June under sections of the IPC over charges including defaming a woman and disturbing peace and harmony in the village, said Raj Kumar, station house officer at Adampur Mandi police station, who is leading the investigation into the matter.
The man is currently lodged in jail.
While the allegations in the audio conversation were serious, villagers said the man featuring in it threatened and forced the woman to make these comments.
The first case lodged
Almost three weeks after the youth was booked, one of the eight women lodged a case against Vinod Loyal under the POCSO Act.
In the FIR, the victim said the coach was treating her with “mala fide intentions from day one”.
“He used to invite the girls to his home on one or other pretext. On one such occasion he invited them for Jagran on Janmashtmi and persuaded them to stay and sleep at his home. When all other girls fell asleep in the room located on the first floor of his house, Vinod forcefully grabbed the victim’s hand.
“When he started to force her to go with him, the victim refused to do so. This had happened many times. So the victim stopped training under him. For the last three and half years the victim and other girls from village are training on their own and they have also created their own playfield,” said Raj Kumar.
The very next day, he added, Loyal’s family filed a counter FIR against the father of the woman player who had filed the first FIR, “for harassing Vinod’s 14-year-old daughter”.
“POCSO was invoked in this case too.”
Now, the Hisar Women’s Police Station has formed an SIT and is now probing the matter. Statements of victims have already been recorded. However, none of them mentioned any kind of sexual harassment by Loyal, said Kumar.
‘What evidence can we give’
A member of the local block committee, which oversees Sadalpur and other villages, alleged that family members of these young women were “still suppressing the matter due to three reasons”.
“Firstly, he has forged the birth certificate and age of these girls, secondly, he is in possession of all of their documents and lastly he also has videos of some of these girls. Due to all this he believes that no one will be able to harm him,” said the member who didn’t wish to be named.
Asked about this, a parent of a 14-year old young woman who was trained by Loyal said, “What evidence we can give the court about an incident that took place three years ago?”
“If he is released from there due to lack of proof, lives of our girls will be ruined forever. We have to marry them too. So most of the parents are saying that the Coach has done no wrong and our girls are as pure as gold,” added the parent who did not wish to be named.
The sacked coach
Vinod Loyal had moved to Sadalpur in 2012 and started training young men at Samrathal High School, before taking to coaching young women.
The principal of the school told ThePrint that he continuously received complaints about Loyal who used to take these women on tours for training.
“I followed him to Chandigarh in August 2016. He had to stay with the girls in a dharmshala, but instead of staying there he took them to a hotel. After this incident I sacked him from his job,” said the principal who didn’t wish to be named.
“Later on, he instigated the families of these girls and forced them to leave my school.”
Loyal even faced allegations of giving to some young women around four years ago, in the aftermath of which the panchayat forbade him to train in the village. But some families continued to send their young women to him, splitting the village, one of Loyal’s neighbours told ThePrint.
In 2016, Loyal managed to enroll several young women from Sadalpur in a Chandigarh based school. In the Under-14 category of the National School games in 2016, 11 out of 18 members of the Gold winning team were from Sadalpur.
These small victories managed to turn the tide in the area and the village panchayat constructed a separate field for young women to play football.
As of now, six young women from this village have represented India at the international level and more than a dozen have played at national level. All of them were trained by Loyal in the initial years even as some dropped in later period.
Vinod Loyal went absconding after the case against him was filed last week.
At least two players ThePrint spoke to, who are preparing for the U-17 World Cup and returned last week from China after participating in a tournament, alleged that all the necessary documents of female players from the village, like Aadhaar Card and copies of bank accounts, are in Loyal’s custody.
But Loyal’s wife, Suman, refuted all the allegations as false propaganda.
“My husband has done such a noble job that girls who could never manage to sit on a camel are now flying in airplanes,” she said. “But some of them are leveling charges against my husband due to personal grievances. Even now more than 30 girls are coming to play/train with us. Ask them whether anything like this has ever happened with them?”
With several young women looking to represent India at the U-17 World Cup, scheduled for next year in India, the cloud of these allegations is now threatening to eclipse their dreams.
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