Wrestling body chief accused of sexual abuse says ‘ready for polygraph test’ – but with a condition

India’s most decorated wrestlers have been protesting against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for nearly a month

Sravasti Dasgupta
Monday 22 May 2023 11:52 BST
Why are top Indian wrestlers protesting on the streets?

Taking lie-detector tests has become the latest flashpoint between the chief of India’s wrestling association who is facing allegations of sexual harassment and top wrestlers who have been protesting against him for weeks.

Since 23 April, some of the country’s most decorated wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakhshi Malik, have taken part in a sit-in at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar – the designated site for protests in the capital.

They have accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a lawmaker from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of sexual harassment, and have demanded police action against him. They want him to step down from his post that he has been in charge of since 2011.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Mr Singh, who has denied any wrongdoing, said he would be “ready to undergo narco test, polygraph test or lie-detector test”, but only on condition that Phogat and Punia “also undergo these tests with me”.

“If both the wrestlers agree to undergo it, they should call a press conference and make an announcement. I promise them that I will be ready for the test,” he said. “I stand by my word even today and promise the countrymen to remain steadfast forever.”

Responding to Mr Singh’s offer, the protesting wrestlers on Monday said they were willing to undergo any test on live television.

“I would like to tell Brij Bhushan that not only Vinesh, all the girls who have given the complaint, are ready to undergo the narco test,” Phogat was quoted as saying at a press conference by news agency ANI.

“It should be done live so that the entire country knows about his cruelty to the daughters of the country.”

Phogat is a Commonwealth and Asian Games medallist, while Punia and Malik are Olympians.

The wrestlers had initially started a protest in January that they had called off after talks with the federal sports minister. However, the athletes said they were forced to resume their protest due to government inaction on their pleas.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP has faced criticism for not taking action against Mr Singh despite the weeks of protests.

While opposition leaders, including those from the Congress party, Aam Aadmi Party, farmer unions and women’s groups have met the wrestlers, there have been no visits by any BJP member since the agitation began again in April.

Mr Singh is a BJP strongman who was elected to India’s parliament from the northern Uttar Pradesh state six times, five of which were from the ruling party.

In the weeks since the protest began, Mr Singh brazened it out and questioned the wrestlers for sitting on protest.

In a video interview last week, Mr Singh equated the medals won by the grapplers in different international sporting events to a very low monetary sum, reported the Indian Express newspaper.

He had said they were not worth Rs 15 (£.15) and that the wrestlers should return their prize money instead.

Mr Singh’s statement had come in response to the wrestlers’ offer to return their medals for want of action against him.

“This shows his mentality and how much he values the athletes,” Malik was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India.

Also last month, the athletes moved India’s Supreme Court, demanding the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) – the first step in any police investigation in the country – against Mr Singh.

Following court directives, the Delhi police filed two FIRs against Mr Singh, including one under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law and another related to outraging the modesty of a woman.

The Supreme Court closed the proceedings in the petition filed by the wrestlers demanding their allegations against Mr Singh be investigated.

The wrestlers said they will continue to protest until Mr Singh is arrested.

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