India’s top female and male wrestlers are braving rain and canings by police as they continue protests in Delhi demanding “convincing legal action” against a former top Indian wrestling official who is accused of sexually harassing several female Indian wrestlers.
The wrestlers, including some Olympic and other international tournament medalists, began their second stretch of sit-in protests April 23 in Jantar Mantar, Delhi’s popular protest site. They are demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a former president of the Wrestling Federation of India, after saying they were not satisfied with the “insufficient action” taken against the accused.
Singh, a member of parliament of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a party strongman, has not been arrested in the case. He insists that the allegations against him are “baseless,” calling them “a conspiracy” to throw him out of parliament.
On Monday as the wrestlers, including Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik, marched to Connaught Place, the financial hub of the Indian capital, Malik said the authorities were indifferent to the wrestlers’ fight for justice.
“We feel our protest is being confined in Jantar Mantar. So, we have taken a march to Connaught Place to meet ordinary people and send the message of our protest to them. We need the whole country on our side, because this is a fight for the women of our country,” Malik said to local media.
“We will make our agitation to an international level.,” said Vinesh Phogat, another wrestler in the sit-in protest and the first Indian woman to win gold at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
“We will approach Olympians and Olympic medalists around the world and explain our situation. We will seek their support in our fight for justice,” Phogat said.
Phogat said the wrestlers have set May 21 as the “deadline” for action against the accused.
“If the authorities fail to act against him by then, we will take a big call on our agitation next week,” she said, without explaining the “big call.”
Singh and several wrestling coaches are accused of sexually harassing seven Indian female wrestlers, including one minor. The allegations first became public last year.
In January, some wrestlers organized a sit-in protest in Delhi demanding action against Singh and the coaches. However, the wrestlers called off the protest within three days following assurance of action from Indian Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.
Saying they were unhappy with the lack of action taken against Singh, the wrestlers began their second stretch of protests on April 23.
After the seven wrestlers petitioned the Supreme Court to take action against Singh, the court issued an order on April 25 to police in Delhi to investigate the case and file charges as soon as possible.
On May 12, a public prosecutor told the court that “considering the seriousness of the case,” a Special Investigation Team, or SIT, had been formed to look into the case.
The wrestlers decided that was not enough and continued to protest.
“Waiting for justice, we are protesting under the open sky, by the roadside, and the accused is staying comfortably at his home,” Phogat sobbed in front of media cameras.
In a significant move, the Indian Olympic Association last Friday took charge of all WFI activities and practically dissolved the top wrestling body, an action that has been welcomed by the wrestlers.
“This is the first step in our fight for justice — a small victory for us. We will continue our protest until we get justice,” Bajrang Punia, a bronze medalist in men’s freestyle wrestling at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, said.
On Monday, the wrestlers sent an open letter to two female ministers of the BJP-led federal government and 41 other female MPs of the party, seeking support in their “fight for justice.”
“Being women Members of Parliament of the ruling party, we have a lot of hope from you and request you to help us,” the letter said. “Please become our voice and save our dignity.”