Reeling under allegations of sexual harassment by one of the players, the Indian women's hockey team chief coach M. K. Kaushik relinquished his post on Wednesday. The player, Th. Ranjitha Devi, in an email to Hockey India (HI) on July 20, said that she was subjected to ‘sexual harassment' and eventually not considered for inclusion in the team when she did not accede to the coach's “demands.”
On a day of dramatic developments, Ranjitha was flown in to attend the enquiry meeting conducted by a five-member committee appointed by Hockey India, comprising Rajeev Mehta (Chairman), Olympians Ajit Pal Singh and Zafar Iqbal, Hockey Delhi member Sudarshan Pathak and HI media manager Anupam Ghulati.
“The committee will make a recommendation to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) by Friday,” HI Secretary-General Narinder Batra told mediapersons. He said SAI would take the final decision since Kaushik was on a deputation from that department.
Sources indicated that the report of the committee was likely to be inconclusive. Zafar defended his former colleague. The two were members of the team that won the gold at the Moscow Olympics. “It is not a strong case. It could have been resolved much earlier. The complaint looks dicey,” said Zafar. He was particularly disturbed with the timing of the complaint. “Why did she not come up with her protest earlier even though the alleged harassment had been going on for six months.”
During the enquiry, Zafar reportedly asked the player to be specific with her allegations but she could not produce a convincing explanation, according to the Olympian.
“He has never touched that lady,” Zafar said. Assessing Kaushik as a player, coach and a person, Zafar said he personally would not doubt his credentials. “He has never faced such an allegation before. Kaushik has been attached with the team as National coach since 1999. We have played together but I have not heard anything against him,” the former India captain said.
Zafar and Batra disclosed that 30 other probables of the team had expressed their support to Ranjitha and signed the letter forwarded by her to HI. “But when I asked some other players whether such things have happened with any of them, they said no,” said Batra.
Many in hockey circles believe the controversy to be connected with the HI elections slated for July 28. While Zafar said the controversy could be an off-shoot of the coming HI elections, Batra denied any such possibility.
Kaushik, on his part, said this was a conspiracy against him and he was ready to face any inquiry. “I know the decision would come in my favour, but I would not continue,” he said.
Would he not like to return as coach even if proved innocent? “No. It would be difficult for me to continue if the team has even one player who has doubted my character. It is the work of some disgruntled elements and some girls have been misled into doing this. I would say they are immature.”
Kaushik was convinced that the players had been “pressurised” to sign the letter supporting Ranjitha.
Earlier in the day, Batra had said that on July 16 and 17 HI received anonymous emails (in the name of ‘hockey sudhar singh'), accusing the women's hockey team's videographer Vasavraj, a SAI employee, of immoral conduct. On July 19, HI suspended the videographer.
On Tuesday, HI received the email from Ranjitha with allegations against Kaushik and the committee, headed by Mehta, had been enquiring the matter. Batra said HI would support the player if she sought legal help.
Meanwhile, the women's team left for Korea to take part in the Asian Champions Trophy. Vasu Thapliyal and Mohd. Khalid Modi will be the coaches.
Chaos reigned outside the Organising Committee office as a large number of mediapersons gathered on the pavement to keep track of the developments. News filtered in from different sources in the absence of any official guidance. Despite repeated requests, the OC was not able to provide a decent platform for holding the press conference, which was addressed on the road by Batra and Zafar.