For the past 10 days, a group of top Indian wrestlers has taken to the streets of New Delhi to raise their voices against what they perceive as a lack of accountability for sexual harassment allegations against the head of the country’s wrestling federation, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The protesters accuse Singh of multiple instances of sexual harassment against female athletes under his purview.
What makes this situation even more complicated is that Singh is not only the head of the wrestling federation but also a sitting parliamentarian from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political party led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The wrestlers’ allegations against Singh have put the BJP in a difficult position, given their vocal stance on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Despite the accusations against him, Singh has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the protesters remain steadfast in their demands for accountability and justice for the alleged victims. This ongoing saga highlights the challenges of addressing sexual harassment and abuse in sports, mainly when influential figures are involved, and the importance of holding all perpetrators accountable regardless of their status.
The renewed protest by the top Indian wrestlers has once again highlighted the challenges of addressing sexual harassment and abuse in sports, particularly when influential figures are involved. The protesters, including star wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik, are demanding accountability and justice for the alleged victims of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the head of the Wrestling Federation of India, who has been accused of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation. In response to the ongoing crisis, the Indian Olympic Association has established an ad-hoc panel comprising three members to manage the affairs of the Wrestling Federation of India until a new governing body is elected. The panel includes former shooter Suma Shirur, Bhupendra Singh Bajwa, who is the chief of the Wushu Association of India and will be led by a retired high court judge whose name has not yet been disclosed. While the IOA and the government have offered assurances to probe the allegations against Sharan and the WFI, the protesters remain steadfast in their demands for justice and accountability.
According to Deputy Commissioner of Police Pranav Tayal, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti came to the protest site with folding beds without permission, and his supporters became aggressive when police tried to remove them from a truck. Bharti and two others were detained after a minor altercation.
Wrestler Bajrang Punia, who is leading the agitation, said that police attacked some wrestlers sleeping on wooden cots in the rain with batons. Vinesh Phogat, a star wrestler, was seen crying and said that no women police personnel were present at the spot. She also claimed that one wrestler suffered head injuries and police misbehaved with women protesters.
Organizer Gopal Tiwari said that police threatened protesters after they demanded a medical test for a policeman caught drinking in a toilet. Tiwari claimed that police started throwing cots around, and a three-star officer started abusing Bajrang and Vinesh. In the ensuing chaos, some police hit wrestler Rahul Yadav in the head with a foldable cot, kicked him, and hit him with sticks, resulting in injuries to his head and leg. Protesters were not allowed to take Yadav to the hospital, and some policemen also misbehaved with women.
Olympian Geeta Phogat, a cousin of Vinesh, condemned the attack and demanded action. Delhi Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj criticized the Union government and demanded medical tests for the accused drunk policeman and MLC of the wrestlers. Delhi Commission of Women chief Swati Maliwal reached the protest site and was arrested.
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