Indian wrestlers halt protest after minister assures swift probe

Indian Top wrestlers have postponed an upcoming protest after Sports Minister Anurag Thakur promised a swift conclusion to the investigation into allegations of sexual assault against the chief body of the country.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been facing protests from members of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) over the government’s inaction. Notably, Phogat Vinesh, Asian Games and Olympic medallist, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the chief of WFI, have been leading these protests.

He has refuted the accusations against him regarding the sexual assault of seven female athletes, including a minor.

At the conclusion of a lengthy five-hour meeting with Thakur at his residence in New Delhi on Wednesday, Malik informed journalists that we have been instructed to remain patient and halt the demonstration until that time. It was communicated to us that the police inquiry will be finalized by June 15.

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Punia, the recipient of the men’s 65kg (143 pound) freestyle bronze medal, further stated that in the absence of any measures being implemented by the 15th of June, our demonstration will persist.

The wrestlers reassured him that they would not hold any demonstrations until June 15, when Thakur, a member of Modi’s party, said that the police would file charges against him.

The minister informed reporters that they have requested us to finalize the investigation and submit the charge sheet by June 15. We will comply with their request.

Modi unveiled the nation’s new parliament building in a grand ceremony, following a temporary detainment during a protest march where the wrestlers were accused of participating in a riot and causing disorder by the authorities on May 28th.

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Last week, Tikait Naresh, a prominent leader of farmers, had threatened to toss their medals into the River Ganges due to inaction before being talked out of it by Phogat Malik Punia.

The wrestlers stated that they had been comforted by the assurance that the accusations against them would be dismissed and the criminal complaint would be retracted after their encounter with Thakur.

Punia expressed, “As wrestlers, we all desire justice for the seven female victims of sexual abuse. We felt deeply humiliated when the police roughed us up and dragged us during those moments.”

In 2019, following his successful re-election, Singh is currently in his third term as the president of WFI. Neither Singh nor any of his family members will be permitted to participate in WFI’s upcoming election. Additionally, he insisted that the influential athletes involved in the scandal also had a meeting with India’s Home Minister Amit Shah last week.

The government’s mishandling scandal has also sparked condemnation from former Olympic shooter Abhinav Bindra and gold-medal-winning javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, as well as India’s protesting wrestlers.

Last night was sleepless, haunted by the horrifying images of my fellow Indian wrestlers protesting. It’s high time we establish independent safeguarding measures across sporting organizations. We must ensure that if such situations arise, they are dealt with utmost sensitivity…

— Abhinav A. Bindra OLY (@Abhinav_Bindra) May 29, 2023

The Wrestling World United (UWW), the governing body of world wrestling, urged Indian authorities to ensure an impartial and thorough investigation into the allegations against Singh and threatened to suspend the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) if they failed to hold elections by the end of the 45-day deadline.

UWW issues statement on Wrestling Federation of India

— United World Wrestling (@wrestling) May 30, 2023

‘This represents the customs’

Phogat Vinesh told Al Jazeera in March that there have been several reported cases of sexual harassment in the past, with the complainant not making sure to compete or disappear charges against the accused Singh.

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Phogat stated that she received phone calls from young female wrestlers from an eastern state in India.

She stated, “They had lodged a written complaint with the WFI regarding the occurrence of sexual harassment by a coach.” “The coach was prohibited for a duration of 10 days but reinstated as the head coach after only seven days. If the head coach himself behaves in such a manner, what measures will he implement against others?” This exemplifies the prevailing atmosphere within the WFI.

The wrestlers who are protesting have declined to disclose the identities of the women who have lodged grievances.

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