Back in January, India’s best wrestlers staged a protest at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. These wrestlers have brought Olympic medals home and are the best in their game. They were protesting against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. They called off the protest when they were assured that action will be taken. But they returned to protest again after nothing came out of it.
In case you are wondering what the protest is all about and what is actually happening, here’s everything you need to know about why the country’s best wrestlers are out on the streets protesting.
How It Started
On January 18, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik took to Jantar Mantar to protest against the WFI and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Wrestlers accused Singh and other coaches of sexually abusing women athletes. Some accusations state that the accused also issued death threats. In a statement, Vinesh Phogat said, “I can name at least 10 girls who were sexually harassed and molested in the national camps. Nobody comes forward because of the fear. A few of the girls sitting here alongside me too have faced it.”
The Formation of The Oversight Committee
While Singh denied the allegations, the Sports Ministry headed by Anurag Thakur sought an explanation from WFI within 72 hours. Later the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) then formed a seven-member committee headed by Mary Kom, including Yogeshwar Dutt, Dola Banerjee, Sahdev Yadav, Talish Ray, Shlok Chandra, and Alaknanda Ashok to look into the allegations after the wrestlers demanded an official probe on January 20. While WFI rejected the allegations, the Sports Ministry assured the wrestlers that they would be heard and a committee will be formed. The wrestlers called off their protest on January 21.
The Oversight Committee, headed by Mary Kom, is formed and they are given four weeks to look into the charges. Bajrang Punia revealed that the protesting wrestlers were not consulted before the committee was formed, as it was promised.
No report by the Oversight Committee
The Committee was supposed to submit their report on February 23, but they extended that date to March 9. In a meeting with the Oversight Committee, Singh rejected all allegations. On March 12, the committee failed to produce a statement and said that they were taking time because they are dealing with a ‘sensitive subject.’
While all of this was going on, wrestlers chose to skip the Ranking Series events. They skipped two such events. On the other hand, the United World Wrestling (the global body of wrestling) took away India’s opportunity to host the 2023 Asian Wrestling Championships in light of the recent developments. The event took place from April 9 to April 14 in Kazakhstan.
Police does not file an FIR
On April 16, Singh announces that he will not contest for the post of the WFI president but he will contest for another post in the federation. According to a report by BBC, the committee submitted its report in April but its findings haven’t been made public yet. After the committee failed to produce a single report in two months, the protestors returned to Jantar Mantar on April 23 to continue their fight. They submitted a complaint at Connaught Place Police Station. The police did not file an FIR.
Sakshi Malik said, “We made a complaint at CP Police Station. It has been two days, but no FIR has been registered yet. Seven women complained, which also includes a minor. It makes for a POSCO case, but nothing has been done yet.”
Supreme Court begins hearing
In a monumental turn of events, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the petitions filed by the protesting wrestlers. On April 25, the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that the allegations were serious and required the court’s consideration. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal reiterated that no FIR was lodged.
Since then, the wrestlers have continued their protest at Jantar Mantar while also putting in morning training at the protest site.
The IOA President PT Usha said that this protest is “not good for the sport.”
While hearing the plea today on April 28, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Delhi Police, said that an FIR will be filed today. The next hearing is on May 5.
The wrestlers have found support from a handful of athletes but the silence from the others is deafening.