Wrestlers demand sporting body chief’s arrest over sexual harassment allegations

Top athletes resume protest after saying government has failed to take action

Sravasti Dasgupta
Monday 24 April 2023 14:28 BST
Related video: Indian wrestlers accuse WFI chief, coaches of sexual harassment

India’s most decorated wrestling stars have resumed a sit-in protest in Delhi, demanding government action over sexual harassment allegations that have been levied against the chief of the sport’s governing body.

The group of protesters, who include some of the country’s Olympic stars, allege dozens of women in national camps faced harassment at the hands of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and other coaches.

The wrestlers earlier called off a three-day protest in January after talks with the federal sports minister.

But the athletes resumed their protest on Sunday, saying they had found the government’s actions to be lacking. They have complained that the police have been slow to move on registering a First Information Report (FIR) – an initial chargesheet that represents the first step in any police investigation in India.

A government-appointed oversight committee in January that had promised to look into the allegations had submitted its report earlier this month, but the wrestlers are demanding the contents of the report be made public.

They said the government has not reached out to them despite protests entering the second day on Monday – the same day they moved India’s Supreme Court over the matter.

Olympians Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and Commonwealth and Asian Games medalist Vinesh Phogat, are among those taking part in the sit-in protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar – a common protest site.

Four months ago, they had demanded action and the registration of an FIR against Mr Singh, who has remained the WFI’s chief since 2011. Mr Singh has strongly denied the allegations, stating that “sexual harassment never happened”.

He has also been elected as an MP from the northern Uttar Pradesh state six times – five of which have been as part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Podium to footpath! In the hope of justice under the open sky at midnight,” tweeted Phogat, who has won gold medals at both the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

Malik, who won bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics, said they had gone to the police to lodge a complaint last week against Mr Singh, but the police had failed to lodge an FIR.

“Seven girls including a minor gave a complaint at Connaught Place police station against Brijbhushan Singh regarding sexual harassment but (complaint) yet to be filed [sic],” she was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

“There must be [a] POCSO case,” she said, referring to India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

“We’ve been waiting for 2.5 months.”

On Monday, Delhi’s police said it received seven complaints from them and was conducting an inquiry, reported Press Trust of India.

A day earlier, the police force was issued a notice by the Delhi Commission for Women for failing to register an FIR in the matter.

The women’s agency said it had received a complaint from the wrestlers claiming they had sent a written complaint to city police two days earlier, but no FIR had not been registered so far.

The oversight committee report on the matter is said not to directly address the allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Singh, according to a report in the Indian Express.

It instead reportedly cites the absence of an Internal Compliants Committee (ICC) and the need for “effective communication” between sportspersons and the WFI.

Meanwhile, the federal government has put on hold 7 May elections to the executive committee of the WFI “considering the current situation”, according to a letter it sent to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

The WFI – an IOA affiliate – was told to form an ad-hoc committee to conduct the elections within 45 days of its formation.

In a separate event on Monday, prime minister Narendra Modi said sports ministries at the federal and state levels must work together to provide quality infrastructure to athletes.

“Last year, athletes of India performed amazingly in so many international sports events. Along with celebrating their win, we also must think about how we can help them more,” he was quoted as saying by The Times of India.

The protesting wrestlers have said they are yet to receive support from any government official.

“We are here since last night, there is no support from anyone. But there is hope, we are sitting to fight for justice,” Malik said.

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