Indian wrestlers suspend protest against sex abuse as government promises swift probe

Government sets 15 June deadline to wrap up the investigation against ruling party MP

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 08 June 2023 13:30 BST
Related: Indian wrestlers protesting sex abuse stopped from reaching country’s new parliament

India's elite wrestlers reportedly suspended their protest on Wednesday after the country's sports minister assured them of a swift probe into the sexual harassment allegations against their federation chief.

The country's most decorated wrestlers have been protesting in the capital New Delhi for months seeking the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied the allegations.

The protesters met with sports minister Anurag Thakur on Wednesday, who promised that the police would file charges against the federation president by 15 June. The meeting lasted at least six hours.

The Narendra Modi government has vowed to hold elections for the top positions in the wrestling federation by the end of this month.

Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia was part of the wrestling delegation that met the sports minister and said: "The government has assured that they would complete the police investigations against Singh by 15 June so we have suspended the protest till then."

Mr Singh, a 66-year-old MP representing the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused of sexually harassing seven female athletes, including a minor.

His lawyer rejected all the allegations levelled by the wrestlers and said Singh was cooperating with the police in the probe.

The six-time MP has called the protests “politically motivated".

Last month, the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were detained as they tried to march to India’s new parliament on the day of its inauguration. Later, Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat and Mr Punia threatened to dump their medals into the Ganges but were eventually talked out of it.

A delegation of protesters also met home minister Amit Shah at his residence last week.

"Those moments when we were dragged and roughed up by the police were deeply humiliating for all the wrestlers as all we want is justice for seven female victims of sexual abuse," Mr Punia said.

Meanwhile, police continued with the investigation, questioning more than 155 people, Reuters reported, citing police sources.

“We are recording statements and gathering evidence from everyone directly and indirectly attached with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI),” said a New Delhi police official who is overseeing the investigation.

“The aim is to wrap up all sides of the police inquiry this week,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Sport and Rights Alliance, a global coalition of non-governmental organisations that promotes human rights in sport, urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) 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.

"We stand with the athletes and encourage the IOC to protect them, especially in this deeply power-imbalanced situation. Their wellbeing should be the top priority."

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