In January 2023, a group of thirty Indian wrestlers, including Olympic medalists, staged a sit-in to demand the disbandment of the Wrestling Federation of India, accusing its coaches and former president, Brij Bhushan Singh, of sexually harassing female players for years. The government’s response to the allegations has been slow and inadequate, raising questions about its commitment to addressing the issue of sexual harassment in sports.
The Oversight Committee’s Investigation
After the protests, the government promised to create an oversight committee to investigate the allegations. The committee, led by Mary Kom, was formed on 23 January and submitted its report to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports on 5 April after questioning Brij Bhushan Singh and other witnesses. However, the findings of the report are not yet made public, and according to Press Trust of India, the report gave a clean chit to the accused Brij Bhushan.
The Wrestlers’ Ongoing Protests
The wrestlers resumed their protests in April 2023, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan and the release of the government-appointed committee’s report. The protestors claim that nothing has been done to resolve their issues. Despite the seriousness of the allegations, separate police complaints filed by seven wrestlers against Brij Bhushan were not registered by Delhi police.
The Supreme Court’s Intervention
The complainants approached the Supreme Court, which listed the case to be heard on 28 April 2023, and said that the allegations in the petition are serious and directed redaction of the names of complainants from the public copy of the petition. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Delhi Police, told the Supreme Court that a preliminary inquiry may be needed before registering an FIR.
The Controversial Response by the Government
The government’s response to the protests has been controversial, with allegations of cutting off electricity, water, and food supplies at the protest site, and Delhi police barricading many locations on Delhi’s borders to stop wrestler’s supporters from joining. The protestors also accused Delhi police of manhandling them late at night on May 4th, and University of Delhi students were detained for supporting the protests.
Impact on the Sports Community
The ongoing protests have also had an impact on the sports community, with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) being suspended from the United World Wrestling (UWW) due to the lack of action taken against Brij Bhushan. The UWW has also withdrawn India’s hosting rights for the upcoming Asian Junior Wrestling Championships, scheduled to be held in July 2023, citing the ongoing controversy.
The Indian government’s inadequate response to the allegations of sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan against female wrestlers and the ongoing protests by Indian wrestlers indicate a lack of commitment to addressing the issue of sexual harassment in sports. The government needs to take immediate action to address the issue and ensure that female athletes are provided with a safe and respectful environment to compete in. This includes conducting a thorough investigation into the allegations against Brij Bhushan and holding him accountable if found guilty. The government should also implement strict policies and guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment in sports, provide training and support for athletes and coaches, and establish a system for reporting and addressing complaints. It is crucial that steps are taken to prevent sexual harassment in sports and ensure that all athletes, regardless of gender, are able to pursue their athletic goals without fear of harassment or abuse.
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