Indian wrestlers demand arrest of federation chief at sit-in

The wrestlers first protested in January but say not enough has been done to end sexual harassment in the sport.

Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik address a news conference as they take part in a sit-in protest demanding arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players
Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, left, Bajrang Punia, centre, and Sakshi Malik take part in a sit-in New Delhi demanding the arrest of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

India’s top wrestlers have returned to the streets of New Delhi to protest against their federation chief and demand his “immediate arrest” after accusing him of sexually harassing several female athletes.

They have also asked the country’s top court for the registration of a first information report against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Such a document is written up by police when they receive information about the alleged commission of a crime.

The wrestlers conducted their initial sit-in in January to demand action against Singh and several coaches. Singh, who is a member of parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has denied all allegations.

Vinesh Phogat, one of India’s most decorated female wrestlers and a protest leader, 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 camp.

Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and other Indian wrestlers take part in a protest demanding the disbandment of the WFI and the investigation of its head by the police, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India
Indian wrestlers protest against the WFI in January in New Delhi [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

The protest in January was withdrawn after the sports ministry stripped the WFI top brass of all administrative powers and asked an oversight committee to look into the allegations.

“Unless there is some action, unless he’s arrested, we are not going to end our protest,” Bajrang Punia, who won the men’s freestyle bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, told reporters on Monday.

He also asked for support for the wrestlers, who have been camping at the protest site since Sunday.

“This is not wrestling’s fight alone. I request all the athletes of the country, all the players, to come and join us,” the 29-year-old said.

Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik said withdrawing the protest in January was a mistake.

“The report by the oversight committee was not made public, and we have reasons to believe the culprits got a clean chit,” said Malik, who won the women’s 58kg freestyle bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Certain people misled us and convinced us to withdraw our protest in January,” she said. “But we have learned our lesson, and this time we won’t leave until we get justice.”

The sports ministry asked the Indian Olympic Association on Monday to form an ad hoc committee to run the WFI and hold a new election within 45 days.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies