Indian police charge wrestling chief with sexual harassment but seek closure of minor’s complaint

‘No corroborative evidence’ against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, say Delhi police

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 15 June 2023 13:44 BST
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India wrestlers and supporters detained in protest

India’s wrestling chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has been charged with sexual harassment and criminal intimidation of women wrestlers following a months-long standoff with decorated sportspersons seeking his arrest.

Mr Singh, outgoing chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and an influential member of parliament belonging to prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, has been at the centre of sexual harassment allegations by half a dozen women wrestlers who staged a sit-in protest for months.

Delhi police, however, have sought to drop charges involving a minor complainant.

The charges of sexual harassment by the minor, which would have made his arrest imminent under the country’s stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

The wrestlers’ legal team called the chargesheet in the case “weak” and accused Delhi police of shielding Mr Singh.

The public prosecutor for Delhi police, Atul Srivastav, read out the charges against Mr Singh at the Rouse Avenue Court in New Delhi on Friday.

He said "no corroborative evidence" was found in the investigation over allegations by the minor.

Speaking to the reporters outside the court, he said there were two police complaints filed in the case.

"We have filed criminal charges in a case filed by six wrestlers but we have sought closure in the other case filed on behalf of a minor alleging sexual harassment," he said.

Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat (C) with others are detained by the police while attempting to march to India’s new parliament on 28 May
Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat (C) with others are detained by the police while attempting to march to India’s new parliament on 28 May (AFP via Getty Images)
Sakshi Malik, an Indian wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, sits with fellow wrestlers by the banks of the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, on 30 May 2023
Sakshi Malik, an Indian wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, sits with fellow wrestlers by the banks of the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, on 30 May 2023 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

He said the charges by the minor were dropped after her father withdrew the allegations.

It will be now up to the judge to whether accept the recommendation and bring closure to the case or not. The next hearing in the case has been slated for 4 July.

At least seven wrestlers, including a minor, accused the outgoing WFI chief of molesting, groping and seeking sexual favour from them at training camps and during tournaments.

A case was also registered by a minor under the stringent Pocso Act but allegations were withdrawn after the father of the minor changed his statements.

Retracting the allegations, he said he filed a complaint against him as he was “angry at him (Mr Singh) for making my daughter lose a crucial match”.

Indian wrestlers Sangeeta Phogat and Vinesh Phogat struggle as they are detained by the police while attempting to march to India's new parliament, just as it was being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a protest against Brij Bhushan Singh, the wrestling federation chief, over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation
Indian wrestlers Sangeeta Phogat and Vinesh Phogat struggle as they are detained by the police while attempting to march to India's new parliament, just as it was being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a protest against Brij Bhushan Singh, the wrestling federation chief, over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation (AFP via Getty Images)

But in a separate interview with The Hindu the father said they were "pressurised into withdrawing the charges" and threatened.

Mr Singh has denied allegations, saying the accusations are “politically motivated”.

A legal team of wrestlers said they will review the charges but called the action against Mr Singh weak, according to The Print.

A wrestler, who was not named, said the watered-down charges show the necessity of arresting someone as influential as Mr Singh. “If he had been behind bars, the minor’s case would not have wavered,” the wrestler said.

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singharrives to address a press conference in Gonda
Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singharrives to address a press conference in Gonda (AFP via Getty Images)

The Olympic and Asian game medallist wrestlers first began their protest in January by camping in the streets of the national capital braving the winter chill but called off sit-in after talks with federal sports minister on the promise of actions against Mr Singh.

They again resumed their protests in April due to government inaction but were briefly detained by the police in New Delhi as they tried to march to the new parliament building in the capital Delhi.

In scenes that sparked outrage and garnered international attention, the athletes, including Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia and two-time world champion medallist Vinesh Phogat, were seen being dragged in the streets before being taken away by the police.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) condemned the treatment of the athletes and demanded an impartial inquiry into their complaints.

The wrestlers, who had been sitting on protests since April, agreed to pause their protests earlier this month after meeting Home Minister Amit Shah and Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.

The protesters last month agreed to call off their agitation after meeting with sports minister Anurag Thakur, who promised the 15 June deadline for filing charges against Mr Singh.

Earlier this month, Sport and Rights Alliance, a global coalition of non-governmental organisations that promotes human rights in sports, urged the OIC to ensure a transparent, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations.

"It takes a lot of courage to break the silence and disclose a case of sexual abuse," network coordinator Joanna Maranhao said.

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