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Wrestlers resume stir, demand probe report

Apr 24, 2023 02:11 AM IST

The wrestlers demanded that the Union sports ministry make public a report of an oversight committee formed on January 23.

Indian wrestling plunged into turmoil afresh on Sunday as top internationals resumed their sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar, demanding that the Delhi Police register an FIR on a complaint by women wrestlers accusing the sport’s national federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexually exploiting them.

Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sangeeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik during their sit-in-protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Singh, at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi.(ANI)
Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sangeeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik during their sit-in-protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Singh, at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi.(ANI)

Three months after they demanded Singh’s ouster as Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and action against him for allegedly sexually harassing women wrestlers, Olympic bronze medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik as well as twice world championships medallist Vinesh Phogat resumed the protest, which they had discontinued this January.

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They alleged that the senior wrestlers, along with seven complainants, including a minor, had gone to the Connaught Place police station in central Delhi on Friday to submit their complaint, but that the station house officer asked them to leave.

“We were told that the FIR can’t be filed before Monday as Saturday and Sunday are non-working days. Aren’t FIRs filed on the weekend? We want some tangible action against Singh, who is still running the federation remotely,” Punia alleged at the protest site.

The wrestlers demanded that the Union sports ministry make public a report of an oversight committee formed on January 23 under boxing great MC Mary Kom to probe their original allegations against Singh, a six-term Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj.

The panel was mandated to submit its findings in four weeks, a deadline that was extended by two weeks. Mary Kom has said the report has been submitted to the ministry.

Singh was asked to step aside from his post during the inquiry.

Last week, he attended a WFI meeting in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, and told the media he was no longer required to keep away from the federation activities. WFI has announced that fresh elections will be held on May 7. Singh will not be eligible to contest under the government’s Sports Code as he has completed three four-year terms. He, however, said he planned to be part of WFI administration in a separate capacity.

Vinesh Phogat said the protesting wrestlers have “lost faith in the system”.

“Why is the report not being made public? A lot of the members of the committee are politically connected and we have no trust in them. We don’t trust the ministry either. It has just left us in the cold,” she said at the protest site. “Neither the people in ministry nor members of the committee return our calls. We don’t know what’s happening with the report. We have lost all faith in the system. We don’t want strongmen and politically-linked people running our sport.”

The ministry said it is still studying the report.

“We have been very patient in hearing out the concerns of wrestlers. All their requests have been given priority, including the addition of Babita Phogat in committee,” said a sports ministry official, who did not wish to be named.

The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) issued notice to the state police on Sunday, seeking a copy of the FIR, asking the force to explain the delay in registering the complaint and seeking details of any arrests made.

DCW officials said the body has received a complaint of several women wrestlers, including a minor, having been sexually harassed by the WFI president.

The Commission has asked Delhi Police to provide an action taken report by April 25.

A senior Delhi Police officer, who asked not to be named, said the Connaught Place police station received seven complaints on Friday. The complaints contained allegations of sexual harassment, with at least four of them related to Delhi and the rest outside the Capital.

“No FIRs have been registered as the complaints are at the verification stage,” said the officer.

A separate inquiry committee set up by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), also headed by Mary Kom, submitted its report, but has not been made public.

The oversight committee includes 2012 London Olympics wrestling bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt (who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party member), former badminton player and member of the government’s Mission Olympic Cell, Trupti Murgunde, former Executive Director-Sports Authority of India (TEAMS) Radhica Sreeman, ex-TOPS CEO Commodore (retd) Rajesh Rajagopalan,and former international wrestler and BJP member Babita Phogat.

“One can see the overwhelming presence of politically linked people in the committee. How can one expect a fair probe? Now, even the police are delaying the matter. One of the complainants is a minor and a case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (Pocso) should be registered, but the police didn’t even deem it fit to lodge an FIR, “ said Sakshi Malik.

Asian Championships wrestling silver medallist Jitender Kumar alleged that some members of the oversight committee, especially Dutt, had tried to intimidate young wrestlers during the testimony. The mandatory video recording was also stopped at certain points, he said.

“Yogeshwar tried to dissuade some young wrestlers from speaking up. He told them that the careers of Bajrang, Sakshi and Vinesh are over, but youngsters must think about themselves. Some young girls were reluctant to open up due to Yogeshwar’s presence because they had looked up to him as a father figure,” he said.

The wrestlers were denied permission for the sit-in by the Parliament Street police station but still went ahead. “In January, we were granted permission immediately. Now, we were told to apply for permission 10 days in advance. How come the rules have changed suddenly?” asked Punia.

“We are not going anywhere till an FIR is registered and Singh is arrested. We are done with false assurances. If they want us to throw us in jail, we are ready for that too.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing issue has led to the elite grapplers skipping two ranking series — in Zagreb and Alexandria — in February though younger wrestlers Sonam Malik, Anshu Malik and Sarita Mor, who joined the January sit-in, competed in the recent Asian Championships in Kazakhstan.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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