Wrestlers Protesting against Sexual Harassment: The Real Truth
Posted at 6-May-2023 / Written by Rohit Bhatt
Recently, a major controversy has erupted in India's wrestling community involving three of the country's top wrestlers, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia. Along with around 40-50 other wrestlers, they have launched a protest against the Wrestling Federation of India's president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The allegations are serious, with the wrestlers claiming that Singh has sexually harassed female wrestlers for several years.
The situation reached a boiling point after seven women wrestlers came forward and filed separate police complaints against Singh, accusing him of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation. The complaints detailed multiple instances of sexual harassment, dating back to 2012 and as recently as 2022.
However, there is more to this story. Despite the severity of the allegations, there are some hidden facts and truths that have not yet been made public. In this blog, we will delve into the details and shed some light on the events leading up to this controversial protest.
Who are these 3 wrestlers?
Sakshi Malik is a wrestler from India who won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, a gold medal in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth, and three bronze medals in the Asian Championships in 2015, 2018, and 2019. She also won a gold medal in the Common Wealth championships in 2017 in Johannesburg. She has won a total of 13 medals. During the Rio Olympics, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, shared a picture with Sakshi on his Twitter account.
Vinesh Phogat is another wrestler from India who won a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in 2014, 2018, and 2022, a gold medal in the Asian Championships in 2021, and two bronze medals in the World Championships in 2019 and 2022. She has won a total of 15 medals. She is the cousin of the Phogat sisters, who were also trained by Mahavir Singh Phogat, whose story was portrayed in the Bollywood movie Dangal.
Bajrang Punia is a wrestler from India who won gold medals in the Asian Championships in 2017 and 2019, Commonwealth Games in 2018 and 2022, a gold medal in the Asian Games in 2018, and a bronze medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. He has won a total of 21 medals, including gold, silver, and bronze medals.
Why are Wrestlers doing protest?
Last October, some of India's most prominent wrestlers sat in protest at Jantar Mantar after leveling serious allegations against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief. The allegations were of sexual harassment against female wrestlers for several years, and the wrestlers refused to back down until an oversight committee was put in place to investigate their claims.
This protest, however, did not put an end to the issue. On April 23rd of this year, the protest was resumed at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar, with wrestlers such as Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, along with world championship medallist Vinesh Phogat, leading the charge. The reason for their protest was the continued accusations of sexual harassment against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
In their complaints filed with the Connaught Place Police Station in New Delhi, seven women wrestlers accused Singh of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation. Despite the complaints filed by the wrestlers, the Delhi Police has not yet filed an FIR.
In addition to the allegations of sexual harassment, the wrestlers are also demanding that the report submitted to the sports ministry by the government-appointed probe committee be made public. They have approached the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) seeking police action and expressed unhappiness that the findings of the Oversight Committee have not yet been made public.
In a video message on Sunday, Vinesh, along with Sakshi and Bajrang, said that the Delhi Police had not taken any action even after they filed complaints. They said that they are fighting for justice for their sisters and daughters and will win if they fight together.
Who is Brij Bhushan Singh?
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is a famous Indian politician and the current BJP Member of Parliament from Kaiserganj. He is also the President of the Indian Wrestling Federation. However, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is a controversial figure with a wide fanbase. He has been accused of harassing wrestlers, but his strong influence in the Gonda-Balrampur-Bahraich belt of Uttar Pradesh may protect him from political consequences.
According to sources, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was a motorcycle thief and even part of a liquor mafia in the 1980s. He was also involved in the Babri Masjid Demolition Case in 1992 and was charged with TADA for helping Dawood Ibrahim in organizing the J.J Hospital Shootout. In 2022, he confessed to murdering the person who shot his close friend Ravinder Singh. In addition, during a junior wrestling tournament in 2021, he was caught on camera slapping a wrestler on stage.
His sons, Prateek Bhushan Singh and Karan Bhushan Singh are also in the public eye, with Prateek being a BJP MLA from Gonda and Karan being the vice-president of the WFI.
Other Side of the Story
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is responsible for organizing wrestling tournaments and selecting the wrestlers who will represent India in national and international competitions. In recent years, the WFI has introduced new rules to ensure transparency and fairness in the selection process. One of these rules is that all wrestlers must compete in the trials, regardless of their past performance or reputation. This means that even if a wrestler has won a medal in a previous competition, they still have to prove their worth in the trials if they want to be selected for the national team.
Another rule introduced by the WFI is that no state can send more than one team to the national championships. This is seen as a way to level the playing field for wrestlers from smaller states, who may not have as many resources as the larger states like Haryana, which has a strong tradition of wrestling. In the past, the Haryana team has dominated the national championships, winning multiple medals in each weight category.
The WFI has also changed the way Olympic quotas are awarded to wrestlers. In the past, the wrestler who won the most tournaments in a given weight category was automatically given the Olympic quota. Under the new rules, all wrestlers who want to be considered for the Olympic team must undergo a separate set of trials to determine their fitness and readiness.
During the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Vinesh Phogat was suspended for a short time by the Wrestling Federation of India. She was accused of being undisciplined and not following the rules. The federation stated that Vinesh did not wear the clothes of the official sponsor of the Indian team and also refused to stay with the Indian contingent. These actions were considered a violation of the code of conduct for athletes representing the country. As a result, she was temporarily suspended by the federation.
Brij Bhushan, the president of the Wrestling Federation of India, said that the accusations made against him and the federation were planned. He also claimed that no player had played any national-level match after the Olympics. According to him, the players want special favors in the trials. They do not want to participate in any trial, and they want rules to be bent in their favor.
The investigation is going on
On January 23, 2022, the Sports Ministry appointed Mary Kom as the head of a five-member Oversight Committee (OC) to investigate claims against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The committee was given four weeks to complete the probe and run the WFI's functioning during the period.
However, on January 31, the protesting wrestlers complained that they were not consulted on the names of the panel members. As a result, Babita Phogat was included in the Oversight Committee as the sixth member. On April 23, wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Malik, returned to the protest site at Jantar Mantar, demanding that the Delhi Police register an FIR against Singh based on the complaint and asking the Ministry to make public the findings of the Oversight Committee.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court of India closed the proceedings by wrestlers. The court said that the purpose of the petition had been served, as the FIR had been registered, and security had been provided to the wrestlers. The court asked the wrestlers to approach the High Court or trial court for further relief.
Current Situation at jantar mantar
The wrestlers also alleged that the police manhandled and abused them during their protest. The police had manhandled and abused them.
One of the wrestlers, Bajrang Punia, stated that they were trying to move a bed to the protest site due to the rainy weather but were verbally abused by the police. He expressed his disappointment with the way the wrestlers were being treated, saying, "This is how they respect daughters."
Rio Olympics bronze medalists Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat were also seen arguing with officials in a video that surfaced from the location. Vinesh Phogat stated that due to the way they have been treated, she would not want any athlete to win a medal for the country.
A senior police officer said that Section 144 had been imposed, and anyone outside the line of barricades was removed. It is important to show respect for the athletes who have won medals for our country, and to ensure that their rights are protected. The ongoing protest and allegations serve as a reminder of the importance of listening to and addressing the concerns of athletes and ensuring that they are treated fairly and with dignity.
The recent controversy surrounding the Wrestling Federation of India has undoubtedly had a negative impact on the country. The decision by the United World Wrestling to take away the rights to host the Asian Wrestling Championships has been a blow to the Indian wrestling community. It is now important for us to closely follow the investigation that is currently underway and understand the findings of the oversight committee.
Brij Bhushan should resign immediately, given his background, alleged monopoly, and FIR registration. Once the investigation's results come out, the decision regarding the new president should be made based on their credentials. Transparency is key to building trust and ensuring accountability. It is crucial that the oversight report of the investigation should be made public so that we can better understand the findings.
At the same time, We must also recognize that there should not be a monopoly or nepotism in any industry, including wrestling. Every athlete deserves a fair chance to compete and represent their country, regardless of their background or connections.
What do you think?