37-year-old para-swimmer Prasanta Karmakar, an accomplished sportsperson with an illustrious career — he is an Arjuna awardee and the first disabled swimmer to represent India at the World Swimming Championship held in Argentina — has been suspended for three years by the Paralympics Committee of India (PCI) for recording a video of women swimmers during the National Para Swimming Championship, held in 2017.
VK Dabas, chairman of Sports Technical Committee, PCI, told The Indian Express: “The incident was reported last year in March during the 17th Nationals Para Athletics (Jaipur). Several complaints were made against Karmakar, following which a disciplinary committee was formed. The committee found Karmakar guilty and thereby handed him a suspension of three years. He has the right to appeal against it.”
As per the PCI, Karmakar has been suspended after a written complaint made allegations of his misconduct, misbehaviour and manhandling. Its statement read, “He [Karmakar] gave a camera to one of his associates and asked him to make video films of female swimmers during the event. When the parents of those swimmers objected, the person making videos on instance of Prasanta Karmakar was called by Dr VK Dabas, Chairman, Para Swimming, PCI wherein he told (sic) that the camera was given to him by Karmakar under instructions to make said video films.”
This was not the only incident. In the statement, the PCI also alleged that soon after the first complaint, Karmakar himself was found making videos of the female swimmers despite repeated objection from their parents. When asked to delete the video, Karmakar argued and refused to comply. Post the complaint, Karmakar was detained by the police and later released when he agreed to delete the videos and photos.
J Chandrashekhar, the secretary-general of the PCI, said, “Various athletes (men and women) had accused Karmakar of a similar offence earlier. Hence, we wanted a thorough probe of the charges. The disciplinary committee was immediately formed after the National Championships and the verdict was given out in January 2018.”
The committee has directed the Haryana Sports department to take strict disciplinary action against Karamkar for “intentional wrongdoings, misbehaviour and indiscipline”.
Of course, Karmakar has denied the charges. Speaking to The Indian Express, Karmakar accused the PCI of a “pre-planned conspiracy” against him as he wanted to “expose certain illegalities in the committee”.
“Two hundred per cent, it is a conspiracy against me. There are several awardees who have claimed medals on the basis of fake certificates and I wanted that list to be published and expose the fraud. The incident at Jaipur was manipulated against me. I teach 6 to 7 swimmers and they reside in my training school. The father of one of the girls was recording a video of our swimmers. The PCI manipulated the entire situation and made it an issue against me. A baseless complaint was lodged against me at the police station but no FIR was filed. I will get to the bottom of this matter,” he said.
Karmakar, who was the coach of India's paralympic swimming team for 2016 Rio Paralympics, is the only Indian to have won a medal at the World Swimming Championship (2003). He has many laurels to his credit.
Even if his claims are to believed that this is indeed a conspiracy, Karmakar's act should concern citizens and set the alarm bells ringing for conduct of public figures of authority. The deep entrenchment of rape culture and an ecosystem of sexual harassment often blur the lines between what is right and what is wrong and unconscionable. The very idea that someone records videos of women swimmers without their consent is unacceptable.
Sportspersons in general and society at large must take into account Karmakar's position of power — he was the women swimmers' coach — and how such an act could have gone unquestioned.
Whether Karmakar is guilty is yet to be seen, but this ought to be a wake-up call for sports ministries and associations in India to work towards forming stricter, more effective and well-defined guidelines for what is acceptable behaviour and how not to drown consent.