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Haryana mahapanchayat demands removal of minister accused of sexual assault: ‘Or face bigger stir’

Head of Dhankar khap says mahapanchayat resolved Sandeep Singh won't be allowed to unfurl tricolour anywhere in the state on Republic Day and asked he be sacked from Cabinet by 23 Jan.

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Chandigarh: A Sarva Khap Mahapanchayat — an assembly of several khap panchayats — held at Dawla village of Jhajjar Sunday resolved that Haryana Minister Sandeep Singh, accused of sexually assaulting a woman coach, will not be allowed to unfurl the national flag anywhere in the state.

Speaking to ThePrint Monday, Yudhveer Dhankar, President of Dhankar Khap, said the Mahapanchayat has served an ultimatum to the state government to sack the minister from the Cabinet by 23 January or face protests.

Following the FIR, Sandeep Singh gave up his Sports portfolio, but remains minister for printing and stationery and has not resigned from the Cabinet.

The mahapanchayat held Sunday was organised on the initiative of the Dhankar Khap.

“Wherever Sandeep Singh goes, we will reach there to protest against him. And if he is assigned the task of unfurling the national flag anywhere in the state, we will not allow him to do so,” said Yudhveer Dhankar.

“Representatives of 30 khaps from Haryana and neighbouring states attended the mahapanchayat and expressed their resentment over the state government’s attitude in the matter. The mahapanchayat was of the opinion that the state government has been shielding the accused minister instead of taking stern action against him,” he added.

The complainant junior coach hails from one of 12 villages comprising the Dhankar Khap and her father and family members also attended Sunday’s Sarva Khap Mahapanchayat.

The mahapanchayat’s decision is likely to put the state government in a quandary as each year every minister is normally assigned a district to hoist the tricolour in on Independence Day and unfurl the flag on Republic Day.

“The mahapanchayat has also taken a decision to meet Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar and Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatreya to seek their intervention in Sandeep Singh’s removal from the state cabinet,” said Yudhveer Dhankar, adding that they have also urged Chandigarh police to expedite investigation in the case and complete it within a week.

“Before holding the mahapanchayat, our Dhankar Khap had served an ultimatum to (Chief Minister Manohar Lal) Khattar government to sack Sandeep Singh by 7 January, but the government didn’t take any action, forcing us to call this mahapanchayat. If the government still hasn’t sacked the accused minister by 23 January, we will intensify our agitation,” Dhankar added.

Singh, meanwhile, has denied the allegations as “baseless”, claiming that they were meant to sully his reputation.

Also read: ‘Allegations don’t make one guilty’ — Haryana CM Khattar defends Sandeep Singh in sexual assault row

Criminal case registered

In an FIR lodged against the Haryana minister, a junior woman coach had accused him of trying to “kiss her”, “tugging at her T-shirt”, which, she claimed, tore in the process, and attempting to “rape her”.

The coach had also alleged that Singh kept threatening her after the incident and that when she didn’t give in to his advances, she was transferred to Jhajjar from Panchkula.

In her complaint, the victim said that on 1 July, 2022, Sandeep Singh called her on instant messaging app Snapchat and asked her to visit his home in Sector 7, Chandigarh, “for the purpose of verification of job documents”.

“I took a cab and met him in his office. Thereafter, he called me into the adjacent cabin and sat alongside me on the sofa. Subsequently, he kept his hand on my thigh and said, ‘I like you, stop this running around. I will sponsor you and verify your Instagram account. You keep me happy and I will also do the same.”

She added, “He (Sandeep) tried to kiss me. I opposed (him) and tried to push him aside, but (he) forced himself on me and tore my T-shirt in the process. I tried to escape. Since the door of his office doesn’t have a lock, I managed to escape and was saved from a rape attempt.”

She further alleged that she brought the incident to the notice of higher officers in the police and her own department, but no action was taken. “Rather, I was advised that this matter pertains to Chandigarh and you can’t expect any action against a minister unless you have proof. I was advised to forget this incident and focus on my work,” she added.

She claimed that she remained silent but Singh continued to send her messages on Instagram, harassing her mentally, and making attempts to jeopardise her career.

The Chandigarh police registered a criminal case against Singh for stalking, illegal confinement, sexual harassment, and criminal intimidation. The FIR was registered under sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354-A (sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), 354-B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Chandigarh police has already quizzed the woman athlete on more than one occasions and questioned the minister too at his official residence. The day FIR was registered against him, Sandeep Singh said that he had relinquished charge of the sports department and handed it over to CM Khattar.

Khattar, however, in a public statement had described the woman athlete’s allegations as “absurd” and said allegations didn’t make a person guilty.

“A woman player has leveled absurd allegations against Sports Minister (Sandeep Singh) but he is not guilty yet. Meanwhile, we have removed him from the post, so that the investigation can be done smoothly. We will wait for the investigation to be over,” he added.

Sandeep Singh is former captain of Indian national hockey team and a 2018 Hindi film Soorma was inspired by his life and struggles.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: FIR against Haryana minister Sandeep Singh: ‘Tore my T-shirt, tried to rape me’


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