Ruckus at Jantar Mantar, Supreme Court hearing due, FIRs against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh: What has happened so far at the wrestlers’ protests – The Indian Express

Wednesday night (May 4) saw chaos unfold at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, as some of India’s top wrestlers alleged that Delhi police had manhandled and abused them during their ongoing protests against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and Kaiserganj BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment. Former wrestler Geeta Phogat alleged that a drunk policeman had assaulted her brother, while police claimed there was a scuffle after people were seen bringing cots to the site.
Earlier in the day, seven women wrestlers moved the Supreme Court, seeking permission to file an affidavit in sealed cover.
Their counsel mentioned the matter before a bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha, saying he was seeking permission to file the affidavit in sealed cover before the court, which is slated to hear the matter on Thursday. He said they don’t have any problem in supplying the copy of the affidavit to the solicitor general but it should not go in public domain. The bench permitted this.
Also on Wednesday, Indian Olympic Association head and former star athlete PT Usha reached the site to meet the wrestlers and express solidarity with them, days after she made a statement accusing them of “tarnishing the image of the country”.
Last Friday, Delhi Police registered two FIRs against Brij Bhushan, one under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and another related to outraging the modesty of a woman. The wrestlers said their protests would continue until Brij Bhushan is arrested. “This is our first step towards victory, but the protests will continue,” said Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik.
Here’s what has happened so far.
The wrestlers have cited the delay from the government in releasing the report of the committee that looked into the allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan, loss of faith in the committee, and the absence of action against the MP, of which they had been assured in January.
They have also expressed unhappiness that WFI resumed its activities in spite of the ongoing probe, and have alleged that Brij Bhushan was still calling the shots, evidenced by the fact that the first national tournament since the controversy broke took place in his backyard, Gonda.
The identities of the seven women wrestlers who have lodged police complaints against Brij Bhushan have not been revealed. On Tuesday, CJI Chandrachud said the names of the complainants would be redacted from judicial records to protect their identities.
However, three wrestlers have been at the forefront of the protest since the beginning in January — Olympic bronze medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and world medallist Vinesh Phogat. At the time of the first round of protests, a number of other wrestlers, including youngsters such as Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, Ravi Dahiya, and Deepak Punia, had shown support by joining them at Jantar Mantar or by releasing videos.
In the current round of protests that began on Sunday, however, only Sakshi, Vinesh, and Bajrang — who have together won dozens of international medals for India over the last decade — have been at Jantar Mantar, with the other wrestlers not having shown up as yet.
A veteran politician and administrator, Brij Bhushan has been MP six times, having 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 all these elections except in 2009, when he won on an SP ticket.
Hailing from Gonda, Brij Bhushan, 66, was associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. According to his 2019 election affidavit, he was named in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
A self-proclaimed wrestling aficionado, he has been involved with the sport in several administrative roles — as president of the WFI, vice-president of the Asian Wrestling Federation, and a member of the government’s Mission Olympic Cell, which identifies athletes for the Target Olympic Podium Scheme and takes action on their training proposals, etc.
Known as a political strongman, Brij Bhushan wields a high degree of influence on the sport domestically and has had the last word on all things wrestling in India.
The wrestlers have alleged financial mismanagement and arbitrariness in the functioning of the WFI. But the gravest allegation has been that of sexual harassment.
The complainants have cited incidents that took place as early as in 2012 to as recently as in 2022, and claimed some of them occurred at Brij Bhushan’s official MP’s bungalow in New Delhi, and during tournaments in India and abroad. One of the complainants, it was mentioned in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, is a minor.
According to a letter sent by the Sports Ministry letter to the Indian Olympic Association on Monday, the wrestlers have levelled allegations against not just Brij Bhushan, but also other federation officials and coaches, whose identities have not been confirmed yet.
Additionally, in their police complaint, the wrestlers have also accused Brij Bhushan of criminal intimidation.
The wrestlers are demanding that an FIR be registered against Brij Bhushan on the basis of their police complaint, and that he be arrested under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as one of the complainants is a minor. They have also demanded that he should be removed as the WFI president, and that the federation should be dissolved.
In January, when the wrestlers began their protest, a member of the protesting group told The Indian Express that Vinesh had received calls from a number of young woman wrestlers, who expressed fears about the “unsafe environment” at the national camp in Lucknow.
“After those calls, Vinesh, Sakshi, and Bajrang had a chat among themselves and decided that Brij Bhushan and the coaches involved in sexual harassment over the years have to be called out. Other elite wrestlers Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik (both of whom were part of the Tokyo Olympics contingent) also came on board,” the member had told this paper.
On Monday, Vinesh reiterated that they were demanding the removal of Brij Bhushan and his arrest to “protect young wrestlers”. Elections to the WFI are due, and though Brij Bhushan will be ineligible to contest for president — he has already served for the maximum-allowed three terms — his son Karan Bhushan Singh, who is a WFI vice-president, has been considered one of the frontrunners to take over.
Brij Bhushan has rubbished the allegations of sexual harassment. In January, he said he was “willing to be hanged” if proven guilty. He has not been responding to calls seeking his comments on the ongoing protests. The WFI has denied claims of financial mismanagement and arbitrariness in its functioning.
Further, he said he was innocent and “ready to face an investigation”. He further alleged that the Congress and some industrialists were behind the recent protests by the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar. “Resignation is not a big deal but I am not a criminal. If I resign, it will mean that I have accepted their [wrestlers’] allegations. My tenure is almost over,” he said, according to news agency ANI.
In January, the government persuaded the wrestlers to call off their protest by forming an Oversight Committee, which was tasked with looking into the allegations against Brij Bhushan as well as managing the day-to-day affairs of the WFI.
The six-member committee, headed by boxing legend MC Mary Kom, was given four weeks to come up with its findings. However, it submitted its report only in the first week of April. The committee has since been disbanded.
Following the fresh protests, the government declared the ongoing process for the WFI elections, which were scheduled for May 7, null and void. It also instructed the IOA to form an ad hoc panel that would conduct the elections within 45 days, and manage the WFI’s everyday affairs until the new members take charge.
What are the findings of the Oversight Committee?
The report is still being “examined”, and has not been made public. However, the Sports Ministry on Monday shared the “major findings” following preliminary scrutiny of the report. The key points stated by the government were:
*Absence of a duly constituted Internal Complaints Committee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013, and lack of an adequate mechanism for awareness building among sportspersons, for grievance redressal, etc;
*Need for more transparency and consultation between the Federation and the stakeholders, including the sportspersons;
*Need for effective communication between the Federation and sportspersons.

Mihir VasavdaThe author is an assistant editor at The Indian Express. He tweets at … read more


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