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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Death of an athlete, the sequel: Campaign to re-investigate Asian gold medal winner’s death gains ground

The incident happened in the early hours of November 23, 2016, when Sagardeep and her husband Satnam were out for training. The facts and sequence of events that culminated in Sagardeep’s death are still being contended by family members.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh | Updated: September 11, 2020 2:57:36 pm
SagardeepOlympian Sagardeep Kaur (L) during the 2004 South Asian Federation Games in Islamabad (Express File Photo)

Four years after she was killed in an alleged hit-and-run incident at Cheeka town near Kaithal in Haryana, the family members of 2002 Asian Championship 4×400 relay gold medallist and 2004 Athens Olympian Sagardeep Kaur have got involved in an ugly battle over the circumstances around her death.

The departed middle-distance runner’s sister Rattandeep Kaur through her #justiceforsagardeep social media campaign – launched last month and supported by several elite athletes this week — has blamed her late sibling’s husband Satnam Singh for misleading the police investigation. Meanwhile, Satnam, a Haryana sports department coach, in his complaint filed with the state police’s cyber crime department, says he has been maligned on social media by unproven allegations with regards to the case in which he has been absolved.

Kaithal Superintendent of Police Shashank Kumar Sawan confirmed that the case is closed, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of probing it again.

“As per my knowledge, Kaithal Police conducted inquiries in the matter of Sagardeep’s accident in the past and the case has been closed. We are ready for a fresh inquiry if the family thinks the investigation wasn’t right and approaches us again,” Sawan told The Indian Express.

Sagardeep, 36 and a mother of two at the time of death, was an assistant sub-inspector with Punjab Police. A reputed national-ranked runner, she was a reserve member of the Indian relay team of S Geetha, KM Beenamol, Chitra Soman and Rajwinder Kaur that finished a historic seventh at the Athens Games.

For the past week, voices to revisit the case have grown louder with the Sagardeep Facebook page featuring posts from Asian Games gold medallist discus thrower Seema Antil Punia and London Olympian judoka Garima Chaudhary. On Wednesday, Tokyo Olympics quota holder javelin thrower Shivpal Singh and Asian Games bronze medallist athlete Naveen Dagar took to Twitter, urging the authorities to probe the four-year-old case. At Sagardeep’s hometown Sunam in Punjab, the trainees at the Government Senior secondary School stood in a queue with placards in Punjabi and English, all asking for justice.

The said incident happened in the early hours of November 23, 2016, when Sagardeep and Satnam were out for training. The facts and sequence of events that culminated in Sagardeep’s death are still being contended by family members.

According to Sagardeep’s father Sukhsagar, Satnam has been inconsistent with the details. “On the day she died, we were told that Sagardeep met with a road accident at 5 am while going for training on a two-wheeler. This was repeated when we all reached her home. Later in the evening, when we asked about the two-wheeler, they didn’t show it to us. Later, when we saw the FIR that was registered on the day of the accident, it stated that Sagardeep was running on the road when a car hit her. It has been a bundle of lies by Satnam,” Sukhsagar alleged.

Sister Rattandeep, an assistant sub-inspector with Punjab Police, said even the post-mortem report didn’t match Satnam’s version of events. “The post mortem report stated that Sagardeep had a fractured rib. There were no other injury marks on her body. If it was a road accident, how is it possible that no injury marks were on the body? Also when we asked Cheeka police about photographs of the dead body, they did not give us any answer. We approached SP, Kaithal and he marked an inquiry,” she said.

Sagardeep Kaur with her two daughters months before her death (Express)

After initial investigation, Cheeka Police booked Satnam under Section 182 of the Indian Penal Code for providing false information in an FIR. It was found that Satnam had told the doctor after the accident that Sagardeep was riding a two-wheeler at the time of the accident while in his FIR he had stated that his wife got hit by a speeding car while walking on the road. However, the Chief Judicial Magistrate court acquitted Satnam in the case under Section 182 IPC because of prosecution’s procedural lapses in September 2018. In 2019, the Singh family petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to re-investigate the case too was dismissed.

Sharing personal details about her late sister, Rattandeep said Sagardeep had moved to Spain with Satnam in 2007 where the two got married. Later in 2010, they returned to India and had a court marriage. “Sagardeep was the eldest among us three, she supported the whole family,” she said.

Fighting for the custody of her late sister’s two children, she said that it is going to be a long hard fight. “ Satnam married one of his trainees in 2018 and we had to approach the district court regarding the custody of Sagardeep’s two daughters. The matter is still in court,” she said.

Satnam said he doesn’t want to talk about the accident. “When my wife died, my elder daughter was seven years old and my younger daughter was less than a year old. I cared for the kids as a father as well as a mother. My parents are in their old age and stay with me. I got married again so that there is somebody to care as a mother for my kids. When my late wife’s family filed a complaint against me within a month of my wife’s death, I was hurt but I gave them all the respect. For one year, they kept coming to meet me and my daughters and I did not stop them. I don’t know why they are running such a campaign against me,” he said.

“My wife was an Olympian and I respected her. I am a reputed coach and have trained many state- and national-level players. All these are false accusations by my wife’s family.”

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