Wrestlers protest: WFI president says he is innocent, calls for a motivated campaign

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on Saturday refuted allegations of sexual harassment by top wrestlers, claiming that the Congress party and a “prominent industrialist” were behind the week-long strike.

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (ANI)

Addressing the media at his residence in Bishnoharpur near Gonda, the BJP MP for the sixth time from UP’s Kaiserganj said: “I am completely innocent and I have full faith in the Supreme Court and the Delhi Police. I am ready to face any kind of investigation. It is not a big deal for me to resign as the President of Wrestling Federation of India, but I will not resign as a criminal. If I resign, it will mean that I have accepted his allegations.

The Delhi Police has registered two FIRs, one under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, as one of the seven complainants is a juvenile. The FIR was registered on Friday after the wrestlers, who resumed their sit-in at Jantar Mantar last Sunday, filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

Singh said that the wrestlers were moving the goalposts. “Every day they are coming with new demands. They wanted an FIR and that has been done. Now they are saying that I should be sent to jail and resign from all posts.

“I am an MP because of the people of my constituency and not because of Vinesh Phogat. Only one family and the Akhara are protesting. Why aren’t people from elsewhere complaining?”

An FIR was registered under sections 354 (molestation), 354 (A) (sexual harassment), 354 (D) (stalking) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, combining complaints from six adult wrestlers. A police officer said that the second FIR was based on the complaint of the juvenile wrestler, in which Section 10 of the POCSO Act was invoked in addition to four sections of the IPC in the first FIR. Section 34 implies involvement of more than one person in the crime, though the police did not say whether the complainants have named anyone else as an accused.

The police can record the statements of the complainants from Sunday. Singh is yet to be served a notice asking him to appear before the probe team and join the investigation. “Some of the seven complainants are sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar, where some politicians met them on Saturday. Kishore is not a wrestler. The probe team will meet each of them and record their statement, said an official.

“Along with the victims, we will also record the statements of those identified as witnesses to the sexual assault by them. As the allegations have taken place between 2012 and 2022 in Delhi and outside and also abroad, it would be difficult for us to get any electronic evidence like CCTV footage. We will ask the complainants to share any electronic evidence, such as sexually-coloured messages, if any, that they have saved with them, said a second official.

The first official said that at least one police officer has been deployed with each complainant.

Alleging conspiracy, 66-year-old Singh said, “I have audio of a male wrestler asking someone to arrange for the hunt. I have shared that audio recording with the inspection committee (of the Union Sports Ministry). I will not resign until the allegations against me are proved.

He criticized Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi for meeting the protesters on Saturday.

“Today, it became clear who is behind this controversy. I have been saying from the beginning that an industrialist and the Congress have a hand in this. They are angry with me.

He claimed that the protesting wrestlers had tried to evade the citizens by seeking exemption. Vinesh Phogat denied this. “Since I started competing in 2009, I have only skipped four nationals. I got injured during the Rio Games (2016), which was the first year. I skipped nationals during covid near the Tokyo Games. I myself was down with Covid. Third National I skipped after Tokyo because I was not in a good mental state after the loss. I could make myself do anything at that time (due to depression). Fourth I missed this year. I had sought permission not to participate in the trials for the world championships as it is difficult to lose weight three times in a month. I’ve competed in 10 nationals and haven’t lost even once.”

Tokyo Games bronze medalist Bajrang Punia said, “This issue is not about citizens. It is about sexual harassment. He should answer those questions.”

A Twitter spat broke out between cousin sister Vinesh and wrestler-turned-BJP leader Babita Phogat. “The players are capable of fighting their own battles. Their platform should not be used to claim brownie political points,” tweeted Babita, referring to politicians visiting the protest site.

Vinesh tweeted in response, “If you don’t stand up for the rights of the victimized women wrestlers, Babita behen, request you not to weaken our movement. It took years for women wrestlers to speak up against those who abused them.” You are also a woman.” Try to understand our pain.”

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