By B S Reporter
Top Indian wrestlers have been protesting on the streets of New Delhi for the last 10 days over the lack of action against the head of the country's wrestling federation, Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, whom they accuse of sexual harassment.
Singh, who is also a parliamentarian from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused of harassing several female athletes but has denied all the allegations.
The protesting athletes have demanded an “immediate arrest” and sought the intervention of the Supreme Court, which directed the police to register a case against 66-year-old Singh.
Late on Wednesday night, the athletes camping at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar protest site – a stone's throw from parliament – alleged that police assaulted them.
“The area is filled with water [due to rains] and there was no place to sleep, so we thought of bringing folding cots. As we were bringing the beds, a male police officer manhandled and abused us,” a sobbing wrestler Vinesh Phogat told reporters.
“The way they have made us suffer, I would not want any athlete to win a medal for the country,” she said.
Why are the wrestlers protesting?
Wrestlers, led by Olympic bronze medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, first took to the streets of New Delhi in protest on January 18. They accused Singh and several coaches of the sport's governing body of sexually harassing female athletes.
Commonwealth Games women's gold winner Vinesh Phogat said coaches and the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) have sexually harassed multiple women.
“Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president,” the 28-year-old athlete said in January.
“I know at least 10 to 20 girls in the national camp who have come and told me their stories,” she told reporters.
Following government assurance that an oversight committee would look into the allegations, the wrestlers called off the initial protests on January 20. The sports also ministry stripped the WFI top brass of all administrative powers.
But Malik, who was India's first female wrestler to win an Olympic medal, said withdrawing the January protest was a “mistake.”
“The report by the oversight committee was not made public and we have reasons to believe the culprits got a clean chit,” said Malik, who won the women's 58kg freestyle bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The demonstrations resumed last month following what the protesters say was government inaction. In a letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief, PT Usha, the wrestlers wrote that Phogat was “mentally harassed and tortured” by Singh after she missed out on an Olympic medal in Tokyo in 2021, which led her to almost contemplate suicide.
The letter also alleged financial misappropriation on the part of the WFI with Singh at its helm.
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