Indian wrestlers end protest over sexual harassment

Wrestlers and supporters held a protest for three days, accusing the federation president of sexually and mentally harassing young female athletes.

Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and other Indian wrestlers take part in a protest demanding the disbandment of the WFI
Male and female wrestlers announced a boycott of all competitions until WFI president was removed [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Top Indian wrestlers have called off a protest near the parliament building following a government assurance that an inquiry into their allegations of sexual harassment of young athletes by the federation would be completed in four weeks.

The wrestlers and their nearly 200 supporters held a sit-in protest for three days at Jantar Mantar in the capital, New Delhi, accusing the federation president of sexually and mentally harassing young female athletes.

They had sought the immediate removal of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brijbhushan Sharan Singh and some other officials pending inquiry against them.

Singh, who is also an MP of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, earlier dismissed the allegations as a political ploy to usurp his position and told media he was “ready to be hanged” if even any female wrestler proved the sexual harassment charge.

On Friday, he cancelled a news conference meant to reveal a “conspiracy” against him and sent out his son to speak to journalists instead.

“We are not authorised to speak on anything,” he told them, saying his father would instead address the media at the federation’s annual meeting on Sunday.

Indian Sports Minister Anurag Singh Thakur met protesting wrestlers for a second time on Friday and said an inquiry into the accusations will be completed in four weeks.

He also announced that the federation president “will step aside and help in carrying out the probe”.

“Until then, a committee will carry out day-to-day work of the federation,” he said.

Male and female wrestlers, including Olympic and Commonwealth medallists, announced a boycott of all competitions until Singh was removed.

Wrestler Bajrang Punia announced the decision to call off the protest on Twitter and welcomed the government’s pledge to investigate.

“Thank the government on behalf of all my fellow players for taking our agitation and demands seriously,” he said. “Our fight is not with the government. We are all fighting against the federation and its president.”

Vinesh Phogat – one of India’s most decorated female wrestlers and leader in the protests – has accused Singh of harassing “several young wrestlers” and said she knew “at least 10 to 20 girls” who had recounted sexual harassment at wrestling camps.

“It has taken a lot of courage for us wrestlers to come together and protest,” Phogat and other top athletes wrote in a letter to the president of the Indian Olympic Association, PT Usha.

Phogat said she was “mentally harassed and tortured” by Singh after she failed to win an Olympic medal and “almost contemplated suicide”.

Young athletes “do not deserve to be in an environment of intimidation”, the letter added. “We will not budge until the WFI president is sacked.”

Usha, a former Indian athletics star, has expressed her sympathy for the wrestlers, calling for “a complete investigation to ensure justice”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies