New Delhi: Two months after she was booked for allegedly assaulting a Haryana government official on duty, TikTok star-turned BJP leader Sonali Phogat has questioned why no action has been taken against the official for the “obscene comments” he has been making about her.
In the first week of June, a viral video surfaced on social media in which Phogat could be seen beating up Sultan Singh, an employee with the state agriculture ministry, with one of her slippers during a visit to the Balsamand mandi in Hisar district. She was later arrested for the offence and granted bail.
The matter has since got escalated with the Haryana Women’s Commission demanding action against Singh and a member of Binain khap panchayat for allegedly making “lewd remarks” about Phogat.
Speaking to ThePrint, the BJP leader said a “malicious propaganda” was being spread against her on social media. Phogat said while she was arrested for the assault case, no action was taken against Singh for the “lewd remarks” he made about her.
The police, however, said their investigation is on, while Haryana Agriculture Minister J.P. Dalal said he is waiting for the departmental inquiry report against Singh.
FIR and counter FIRs
After the assault incident, Sultan Singh had lodged an FIR against Phogat, while the latter filed a counter complaint alleging that the Hisar Market Committee secretary had used “indecent, derogatory language” against her, which led to the spat.
Days later, Binain khap, one of the Haryana’s prominent khap panchayats, held a meeting and demanded Phogat’s arrest.
On 17 June, the BJP leader was arrested, but granted bail the same day. She had also reportedly “regretted” the incident saying she should not have assaulted the official. Sultan Singh, however, hasn’t yet faced any action in the FIR filed by Phogat on 5 June, though a departmental inquiry against him is going on.
After her bail, Sultan Singh and Samsher Singh, a member of the Binain khap, allegedly made “obscene comments” against her. Speaking to ThePrint, Phogat said the Binain khap held several meetings where people made comments aimed to “assassinate my character”.
A local resident who attended one of these khap meetings confirmed this. He told ThePrint that some people at the meeting also made objectionable remarks about her husband’s death.
While the Haryana Women’s Commission has demanded that an FIR under the IT Act be lodged against Sultan Singh and Samsher Singh who sent “lewd messages” on WhatsApp, no such case has been registered yet.
Singh belongs to Sacha Khera village, which is among the 52 villages that come under the Binain khap.
‘Police has a free hand’
Speaking to ThePrint, Phogat expressed hurt over the “malicious propaganda” being spread on social media.
“This is not the first time that Sultan Singh has acted in this manner. Even before this, there have been cases against him for mistreating two more women… I am grateful to the Haryana Women’s Commission for impartially hearing the case,” she said.
Haryana Agriculture Minister J.P. Dalal said the government has received the recommendations but it’s the police that has the authority to probe the criminal charges.
“Hisar police has been given a free hand in this regard. They are investigating the matter as per law and relevant sections of IPC. If it is required, the police will arrest the accused,” said Dalal.
“As far as departmental inquiry is concerned, I am waiting for the final report. Sultan Singh has been accused of many corruption charges. If he is found guilty of the charges, we will either suspend him or initiate further investigation,” he added.
Hisar Superintendent of Police (SP) Ganga Ram Meena said evidence is still being collected and evaluated. He clarified that the departmental inquiry against Singh has nothing to do with the criminal case against him.
ThePrint reached Sultan Singh via calls for a comment but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
‘Why no female khap panchayats’
According to Phogat, the Binain khap kept threatening a widespread protest in the state, and put pressure on the Hisar police to arrest her. It held several meetings and tried to mobilise other khaps as well, she said.
“The things that the khap panchayat said about me are deeply painful. You claim that women have equal participation in Haryana… When Sultan Singh made some lewd remarks about me, then, instead of listening to me, several malicious things were said about me. Why are there no khap panchayats for women in Haryana? Who will listen to us?”
The BJP leader, who unsuccessfully contested against senior Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi from Adampur in the 2019 assembly polls, however, said she had her party’s support.
She said Karnal MP Sanjay Bhatia, who probed the case for the party, supported her along with other leaders. “If I had been at fault, I would have been asked to resign from the party.”
However, a source in the government said, “It was for everyone to see who was at fault and who was not. Her behaviour was not acceptable. But she has the support of a few BJP leaders.”
Fear of political fallout?
A BJP leader from the region told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that the party isn’t taking action against Singh as he is a Jat and a bypoll is coming up.
“Binain khap is a very big khap… Even BJP will also not want to fuel the Jat’s anger against the party in Haryana by enraging khaps,” he said, adding that Singh is allegedly a close aide of Surjewala.
“Therefore, the BJP is also trying hard to ensure that this matter does not become political. The by-election for Baroda assembly constituency is also coming up,” he said.
ThePrint reached Surjewala via calls for a comment but he was not available. His staff said he is headed toward Jaisalmer and has left his phone in New Delhi.
An official from Singh’s department, however, said action against him is “imminent” because the post he holds is “notorious for collaborating with the politicians”.