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Friday, April 19, 2024

Indian Wrestlers and Brij Bhushan Battle Over Sexual Harassment Allegations

The Indian women wrestlers’ protest against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and BJP MP, has reached the Supreme Court after four months of confrontation. On April 24, the SC decided to review the petition filed by seven women wrestlers who have accused Singh of sexual harassment. In January, 30 wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya, and others, held a peaceful demonstration at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, accusing Singh and several coaches of sexually harassing multiple girls.

Resumption of Protests Due to Delay and Loss of Faith

The first protest was called off in January, but the wrestlers resumed their demonstration due to the delay in releasing the report on sexual harassment allegations against Brij Bhushan, loss of faith in the committee, and the absence of action against the MP, which they were promised in January. They were also upset that the WFI continued functioning as before, despite the gravity of their accusations.

Unidentified Complainants

The seven complainants who have lodged police complaints against Brij Bhushan have not been identified, but Olympic medalists Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia have been at the forefront of the protests since January.

Phogat, Malik, and Co Take the Lead

Phogat started receiving many calls from female wrestlers concerning Brij Bhushan’s conduct with them, and the “unsafe environment” at a camp in Lucknow. Phogat spoke with Malik and Punia and decided the issue had to be taken up.

Accusations Against Brij Bhushan

Brij Bhushan has been accused of sexual harassment, financial mismanagement, criminal intimidation, and arbitrariness in the functioning of the WFI. The first charge is the most serious, and his offences allegedly span the years from 2012 to 2022. One of his alleged victims is a minor. In addition to Brij Bhushan, the wrestlers have named other officials and trainers in a letter sent on Monday by the Sports Ministry to the Indian Olympic Association.

Profile of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh

Brij Bhushan is a 66-year-old seasoned politician and a six-time MP. He won the Gonda Lok Sabha seat in 1991 and 1999, Balrampur in 2004, and Kaiserganj in 2009, 2014, and 2019. He was a candidate of the BJP in every election save for 2009 when he won on an SP ticket. In Indian wrestling, his is the last word. He is president of the WFI, vice-president of the Asian Wrestling Federation, and also on the government’s Mission Olympic Cell, which selects athletes for the Target Olympic Podium Scheme.

Demands of the Wrestlers

The wrestlers demand that an FIR be registered against Brij Bhushan basis their police complaint. They also want him to be arrested under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act since one of the complainants is a minor. In addition, they want him removed as the WFI president and the federation to be dissolved.

Responses of Brij Bhushan and the WFI

Brij Bhushan has denied the charges of sexual harassment. At the time of the January protests, he said he was “willing to be hanged” if he was proven guilty. The WFI too has denied accusations of financial mismanagement and operational arbitrariness.

Government Actions

In January, the government formed an Oversight Committee to address allegations against Brij Bhushan and manage the daily operations of the WFI, persuading wrestlers to end their protest. The committee, led by MC Mary Kom, was expected to produce its findings within four weeks but did not submit the report until the first week of April. The committee has since been dissolved. In response to renewed protests, the government invalidated the ongoing WFI election process, which had been scheduled for May 7, and directed the IO

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