Top Indian wrestlers who earlier this year protested against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, and other trainers, accusing them of sexually exploiting women wrestlers, are back at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar with a fresh police complaint. Seven women wrestlers have filed a sexual harassment complaint against federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh at the Connaught Place police station in Central Delhi.
A First Information Report based on the complaint is yet to be filed, wrestler Sakshee Malikkh said, adding that they are frustrated that a government panel report on the issue hasn’t been made public yet. “We want the report, which has recorded women wrestlers’ statement, to be public. It’s a sensitive issue, one of the complainants is a minor girl,” she said, adding that names of the complainants must not be leaked.
“We won’t leave from here until Brij Bhushan is arrested,” Bajrang Punia, another top wrestler, said.
Vinesh Phogat said they aren’t getting any response from the government despite repeated attempts. “We are going to sleep and eat here till we get justice.
“From podium to footpath,” Ms Phogat tweeted sharing a picture of wrestlers sleeping on a footpath.
Podium से फुटपाथ तक।
आधी रात खुले आसमान के नीचे न्याय की आस में। pic.twitter.com/rgaVTM5WGK
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) April 23, 2023
We have been trying to contact them (Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and other relevant authority) for three months. The members of the committee are not responding to us, sports ministry has also not said anything, they don’t even pick up our calls. We have won medals for the country and have put our careers at stake for this,” she said.
The Sports Ministry had formed a five-member oversight committee, headed by legendary boxer MC Mary Kom, on January 23 and asked it to submit its findings in one month. Later, it extended the deadline by two weeks and also added Babita Phogat to the probe panel as its sixth member on the insistence of the protesting wrestlers.
The committee submitted its report in the first week of April, but the ministry is yet to make its findings public. However, sources said the wrestlers could not prove the sexual harassment allegations against the WFI boss after several hearings.
The wrestlers had earlier said they did not want to take the legal route because they had faith in the Prime Minister, but had warned of going to the police if the government didn’t act. They said they were not satisfied with talks at the Sports Ministry brokered by Olympian Babita Phogat, a member of the BJP and part of the Haryana government. Sports Minister Anurag Thakur had also met the wrestlers over the issue, and called the allegations “serious”.
The Delhi Commission for Women, a local body that looks after women’s issues, has issued a notice to Delhi Police for failing to register an FIR in the matter. The wrestlers had complained to the Commission that they have given a written complaint to the Delhi Police two days back, but their FIR has not been registered so far.
“The complainant has informed the Commission that several women wrestlers including a minor have alleged that the accused person has indulged in the crime of sexual harassment against them during his tenure at the Wrestling Federation of India,” DCW chief Swati Maliwal said.
It claimed that the complainant informed the Commission that instead of an FIR being filed in the matter, some of the complainants and their family members have started getting phone calls enquiring about the identities of the complainants from an IPS officer posted in the Sports Ministry.
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is a BJP MP, has refuted the charges. “All the sexual harassment allegations are false, and I will commit suicide if they are found to be true,” the 66-year-old was earlier quoted as saying by news agency ANI. The federation said that the athletes who have levelled sexual harassment charges against the WFI chief have a hidden agenda.
Awaiting a report by a government panel on the sexual harassment allegations against him, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has said that he will not contest for the president’s post in WFI election on May 7 but hinted that he might look for a new role within the federation. He has served three four-year terms as president in a row and according to the Sports Code after completing 12 years as WFI chief, he is ineligible to contest for the top post.
The protest began on January 18 with triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, one of India’s most decorated women wrestlers, went public with the charges. Ms Phogat said she never faced such exploitation herself, but claimed many wrestlers were intimidated from coming forward because of their humble backgrounds.
The elite wrestlers had said they weren’t satisfied after talks with the government and “won’t wrestle another day” till their demands are met. Alleging mismanagement in the functioning of the federation, they demanded a complete overhaul of the federation.
Vinesh Phogat, 28, made the allegations against Mr Singh and trainers at a public protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, backed by several other top wrestlers like Bajrang Punia, Sakshee Malikkh, Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia. “Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president. I know at least 10-20 girls in the national camp who have come and told me their stories,” she said, tearing up.
Brij Bhushan earlier this month said it was laughable what the wrestlers said during the government panel hearings.
“I could not stop laughing what these wrestlers were saying. If I had anything inappropriate with Sakshi Malik, then why did she invite me to her wedding. They come to me with their personal matters and also family issues.
“They sit with my son and daughter-in-law and have food together, and now suddenly they are alleging that I have harassed them. If that’s the case, why do they come to my home?” The WFI boss said the federation will not have revenge in mind when the issue is sorted.