Kolkata: #MeToo is back.
This time, it has not struck the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), but an affiliate, Baroda.
An India A player, who is undergoing treatment for “mental breakdown”, is one of the three women to have complained against head coach Atul Bedade, accusing him of sexual harassment and public shaming.
Word from Vadodara is that more complainants could come forward. If that does happen, life would become exceedingly difficult for the 53-year-old Bedade, a former India batsman.
After a series of internal meetings, Bedade got suspended till “further inquiry” by a fast-acting Baroda Cricket Association (BCA). That decision was taken on the evening of 21 March.
According to information made available to ThePrint, two players have complained in writing, while one member of the support staff has done so over the phone. She too is expected to file a written complaint against Bedade, a big-hitting left-hander who played 13 ODIs in the 1990s.
In keeping with the Vishaka Guidelines, the BCA has decided to appoint an independent inquiry committee, to be helmed by the head of an NGO in Vadodara. Specifics are being finalised, but the inquiry is unlikely to start immediately, owing to the general fallout of COVID-19.
Contrast with BCCI CEO case
That the BCA suspended Bedade “within days” of receiving the first complaint contrasts starkly with the stand taken by the BCCI in handling the accusations against CEO Rahul Johri back in October 2018.
The BCCI was then being run by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators. Chief Administrator Vinod Rai, known to have a soft corner for Johri, merely served a show-cause notice and asked him not to attend office for a fortnight.
That, of course, was more a joke as Johri continued to work from home, as no suspension order had been issued.
Eventually, a three-member inquiry committee returned a 2-1 verdict in Johri’s favour. He was nevertheless asked to undergo “gender sensitisation counselling.”
Among other things, the inquiry committee ignored a stinging deposition from Neeraj Kumar, a former commissioner of police, Delhi. He deposed in his capacity as a former head of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption & Security Unit.
Kumar was privy to damning information and he let the inquiry committee know everything in writing and during his deposition on Skype. Johri still got away.
Rai and the other administrators have long gone, but though there is talk of Johri having resigned, he continues as the CEO even with Sourav Ganguly as the BCCI president.
Some things, after all, never change.
Accusations against Bedade
Getting back to Bedade, the letter of his suspension lists the accusations: “(A) Personal comments on physicality to personal menstruation; (B) Comments that discourage the morale of team members; (C) Angry outbursts unbecoming of a women’s team coach and using unparliamentary language; (D) Behaviour oblivious of gender sensitivity.”
Well-placed sources suggested Bedade was an “old offender”. His one-year contract with the BCA finishes at the end of this month.
The India A player in question is currently undergoing “counselling” in Hyderabad.
“It was only four-five days ago that we first learnt of what the India A player went through and where she is at this point in time. Her father is the one who approached us. Later, more allegations came up,” BCA secretary Ajit Lele told ThePrint.
“The BCA is committed to zero tolerance of inappropriate behaviour,” Lele, son of the former BCCI secretary, late Jaywant Lele, emphasised.
At this stage, it is not clear whether the BCA will meet the counselling expenses being incurred by the India A player. Her family, it needs to be noted, would not be described as affluent.
All Baroda players are covered by medical insurance, but counselling is a different ball game.
‘Justice must be done’
In the BCA, it has been baptism by fire for newly-appointed CEO Shishir Hattangadi, a former captain of the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team.
Hattangadi, one may recall, had deposed against Johri on the basis of what was conveyed to him by a woman complainant.
Wearing a different hat, Hattangadi was careful with his words: “I’m not here to judge anybody. My job is to see that the processes are implemented, that the rule book is followed.”
The Vadodara-based Sanjay Patel, a former secretary of the BCCI, pointed out the need to support the women who have complained.
“The bottom line is that justice must be done, and no head coach or coach should feel he can get away with what I understand was disgusting behaviour,” Patel said.