Chandigarh: Allegations don’t make a person guilty, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said Tuesday — his first public statement over the accusations of sexual assault that Sandeep Singh, a minister in his cabinet, is currently facing.
Speaking to ANI Tuesday, Khattar called the allegations “absurd”. “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.
The woman has accused Singh, a former Indian hockey captain who inspired the move ‘Soorma’, of trying to rape her in July last year.
While Singh has denied the allegations, he has stepped aside from the sports ministry, even as he remains the Minister for Printing and Stationery.
Despite Khattar’s stand, opposition parties, women’s rights organisations, and at least one caste council have called for Singh’s immediate dismissal. A khap panchayat (caste council) held in Dawla, Jhajjar, has threatened to go on protests unless Singh is sacked by 7 January, a khap representative who attended the meeting told the media, adding that they want the minister arrested immediately.
Meanwhile, the woman who made the allegations appeared before a special investigation team (SIT) that’s probing the allegations.
Also Read: Haryana minister Sandeep Singh, hockey captain who inspired ‘Soorma’, booked for sexual harassment
Critics of the Khattar government say that the government’s decision to let Singh continue in the cabinet could be detrimental to the investigation.
As the controversy raged on, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) national vice-president Jagmati Sangwan wrote an open letter to the newly-elected Indian Olympic Association president P.T. Usha about the incident.
Sangwan, a former international volleyball player who was part of the 1982 Asian Games contingent with Usha, appealed to her to help protect vulnerable female athletes from men in powerful positions.
Singh, the letter said, was using his “position of power” to influence the process of justice and had asked the police chief to constitute an SIT to look into the “character” of the complainant — a “classical (sic) case of blaming the victim”.
The minister is using government machinery to harass the complainant in every way possible and plain-clothed police officials have been asked to follow her movements, the letter read.
“The state Women’s Commission has labelled the complainant’s charges as not credible merely on the basis of their interaction with the accused minister and without ever talking to the victim,” it said.
This particular case doesn’t just concern one sportswoman but is a reflection of the functioning of the entire sports machinery in our country, the letter said.
“As the president of IOA and as a distinguished woman athlete, I request your intervention in this case by pressing for the immediate dismissal of the accused from all government positions to enable a fair enquiry (sic) into the matter and to ensure that the victim gets justice,” Sangwan wrote. “This will send a very important message signaling that while the IOA is committed to fulfilling the sports-related needs of sportswomen in India, it is also equally committed to ensuring their mental, physical and social well-being.”
Meanwhile, Congress MP Deepender Hooda told the press that a fair probe could only be ensured after Singh’s dismissal from the cabinet. “A fair probe can’t be ensured when there is a government influence in the matter. It is possible only when the accused is sacked from the Cabinet,” Hooda told the media.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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