India’s top wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik – joined by Olympic medallist Ravi Dahiya – continued their protest on Thursday against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who they have accused of sexual abuse of fellow athletes. The wrestlers, who met with the Sports Ministry today, noted that while they were given assurances of due process, satisfactory action had yet to take place.
Late in the evening, more than 24 hours after the protests started, IOA president PT Usha made her first public comments on the issue. She asked the wrestlers to come forward with their concerns, promised a “complete investigation to ensure justice” and said a special committee would be formed for future such cases.
As IOA President, I’ve been discussing the current matter of wrestlers with the members and for all of us the welfare and well being of the athletes is the top most priority of IOA. We request athletes to come forward and voice their concerns with us. (1/2)
– P.T. USHA (@PTUshaOfficial) January 19, 2023
Vinesh also went on to note that more women wrestlers have come forward with proof of sexual abuse, with every intention of filing an FIR tomorrow, although hoped it would not come to that.
Speaking to the media, here’s what the wrestlers had to say:
Sakshi: They have just assured us [that they will take action]. We did not get any satisfactory response from their side. We are not happy with that. We want to shut down WFI and all of its state associations. We want a fresh start. They [WFI] have their people everywhere, in each state.
Bajrang: He claimed yesterday that 97% of the Indian wrestling community is with him. As you can see, all the wrestlers from India, the cream of Indian wrestling, are sitting here [in protest with us]. They are sitting here and fighting for their future.
Vinesh: We are all waiting for a final decision. The allegations we have levied are true. We have 5-6 girls, with proof, to expose what they have gone through. Our self-respect is most important. We don’t want to come here and tell you what has happened with XYZ or with your sister or daughters. If we are forced to, then it will be wrestling’s misfortune to take their names and tell everyone what happened to them. We hope it does not come to that.
If we Olympians are saying something wrong has happened, don’t doubt them. Bring him [Brij Bhushan] here in front of me. I will challenge every person in India – give me two minutes with him and ask him to look me in the eye and tell me he has done nothing wrong. He was finishing my career. He killed UP women’s wrestling, all because of his exploitation. Now he is after wrestlers from Maharashtra and Kerala. I got calls from girls who say ‘don’t back down, we will all support you too.’
If we do not get a satisfactory response today then we will file an FIR tomorrow and take the legal route. But when that day comes, it will be one of the dark days [for Indian wrestling]. I say with great shame that if girls like us [professional wrestlers] go through this [sexual harassment]; then no woman is safe in India. [If this is how women are treated then] I will say no girl should be born in India. We will remain here until he and his corrupt people in every state [are removed from power]. Our lives are in danger, we are scared to go home and worry about what could happen to us.
The more he delays [his resignation],the more dangerous it will be for him. We had 1-2 girls who came forward yesterday, we have 5-6 girls today. And they are all sitting in front of you. He wants an investigation and so do we, but he must at the very least leave his position. We have left our wrestling and come here, can’t he let go of his position?
We have been appealing to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and the Supreme Court since yesterday. Doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani hone do (Let everything will become clear.). First, he must resign and then the WFI must be disbanded. We will be here until that happens.
On Wednesday, Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and double Worlds medallist Vinesh Phogat, had accused the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual assault on female wrestlers and issuing death threats to athletes.
Singh had rejected the allegations. “Vinesh’s biggest allegation – is there any athlete who has come forward with these allegations and says the federation president has done some sort of sexual assault,” he said. “Shouldn’t there be someone?”
The Sports Ministry then sought an explanation from the WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within the next 72 hours. The Delhi Commission of Women also took suo motu notice of the allegations, writing to the Sports Secretary and asking the Deputy Commissioner of Police to divulge details.
The allegations followed a public protest that began in the morning at Jantar Mantar in the heart of New Delhi. “Adhyaksh (President) and a few coaches in the national camp have sexually exploited female wrestlers,” Vinesh told the media. “I’ve openly said it today, I don’t know if I will be alive tomorrow. We have requested many times to move the camp away from Lucknow. Why does it happen only there? Because it’s easy for him to prey on the women wrestlers.”