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Wrestlers' Worry

Jaswant Kaur Jaswant Kaur
01 May 2023
It is three months since our top wrestlers raised their voice against Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

It is three months since our top wrestlers raised their voice against Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). Seven women, including a minor, have made allegations of sexual harassment against him. It is unfortunate that a matter that came to the fore in January 2023 has not been resolved so far.

When the wrestlers started protesting, the government requested them to call off the protest, promising a proper investigation. A six-member oversight committee, headed by well-known Olympic boxer Mary Kom, was formed immediately. It was decided that the committee would run the affairs of the federation till a proper investigation was conducted. However, nothing much has happened in this direction.

The wrestlers say that the oversight committee submitted its report in the first week of April but the same has not been made public. They are not even aware of its contents. A few media reports suggest that one of the members of the committee signed the report with objections. 

The newspaper quoted the member saying that, “I wrote in my objection that no document submitted by witnesses or the Wrestling Federation or recording of witness statements was shared with the members of the committee. None of the witness deposition was signed by either the witness or by the members of the committee. We did not cross-check or verify with any of the witnesses if their testimony was right or wrong. We only recorded what was said. There were individuals who had an incentive to speak in favour of one party”.

Not only this, but the report also says that the objections raised by the member were not even recorded in the minutes of the meeting. The statement of Brij Bhushan Saran was recorded in the absence of a lawyer, while the statements of the athletes were recorded as per the set procedures. Now, how can two different sets of rules be followed for investigating a case based on the position one enjoys?

The member has also alleged that, “decisions were taken unilaterally.” Worse, the committee did not make any recommendation regarding the various allegations that had been made. "I have mentioned in the report that no suggestions have been made which will either support or contradict what the athletes have said,” the member said.

If nothing, the report does suggest how objective this investigation would be. If the allegations made in this report are true, it only means that law has been used to benefit one person, who enjoys a lot of clout. The interest of young athletes, who have been making the nation proud, by winning laurels, even at the international level, has been put at stake, simply because the opponent has been a six-time MP of the ruling party. If women who have been working hard to make the nation proud and are celebrities on their own are not safe, one can imagine the plight of ordinary women.

Olympic Bronze medallist Sakshi Malik has also alleged that WFI had no internal complaint committee. The federation had no systems for grievance redressal.

Worse, one of the complainants is a minor. The law suggests an entirely different course of action for such cases as children are far more vulnerable. Ideally, the police should have registered a case under protection of children from sexual offences (POCSO) Act and followed the procedure laid down for the purpose. But nothing has been done so far. Clearly, by now, a lot of evidence would have been destroyed. How will this child get justice in the absence of clear evidence?

Perturbed, the wrestlers started their protest again at Jantar Mantar. They filed a police complaint against Brij Bhushan. However, the police have not filed an FIR till now. Not only this, the petition mentioned that “the personnel at the police station took the complaint and did not even issue a formal receipt for three hours. The personnel were seen taking pictures of the complainants with their mobile phones and seen forwarding it to others. Their attitude was shockingly rude.”

The matter was taken to the Supreme Court. The court has asked the police to submit its reply as to why an FIR has not been filed in the case. It is shameful that the apex court had to remind the executive of its duties.

The CJI said: “There are serious allegations contained in the petition at [the] behest of wrestlers, who have represented India, with regard to sexual harassment. Issue notice, returnable on Friday.” He also said that the court is aware of its duty to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens under Article 32 of the Constitution, which allows individuals to move to the top court to seek justice. The Bench also directed redaction of the identities of the petitioners before making the contents of the petition public.

Meanwhile, India had to pay a huge price for this. The sports global governing body – United World Wrestling -- took away the rights to host the Asian Wrestling Championship. Now what kind of a message does this convey to the international community? Does this not show that India hardly cares about its sportswomen? And a particular person is more important than the pride of the nation? 

People who have been preaching nationalism on one pretext or the other should have felt ashamed when India lost its right to host the Asian Wrestling Championship. But it seems, different metrics are used to calculate the fervour of nationalism when it comes to those belonging to the ruling party.

This certainly does not redound to the credit of the government, which has been promoting Beti Bachao, Beti Padao, ever since it came to power. If the same government cannot protect the betis, who have made the entire country proud, what kind of protection can it offer to ordinary girls!

It is unfortunate that the powers that be could not even ask the WFI president to step down. What kind of arrogance is this? Does this mean that every time a politician or a bureaucrat, who enjoys the confidence of the high-ups, is accused of serious offences, people will have to move the Supreme Court for justice?

Be that as it may, the court will be hearing the petition soon. The entire country is certainly looking up to the court for justice. In the process, Delhi Police has certainly lost its sheen. The slogan, “for you, with you always”, does not hold much importance when one comes across such cases. This kind of apathy towards the victims shows how committed they are for people of the national Capital.

The government should have set a precedent by removing Brij Bhushan from the WFI. It would have given a strong message to the public that it has zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Politically speaking, it would have given a positive message not only to the people of this country but also to the international fraternity. Unfortunately, it has disappointed every girl who wishes to fly high to achieve her dreams. It has reiterated the fact a girl will always have to pass through a million problems before she achieves success, be it culturally, socially or because of the highly patriarchal flavour of our society. And one day, they will have to put themselves to test in front of the court, awaiting justice. 

In such circumstances, one can only keep fingers crossed and pray, “let justice prevail”.

(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at Jassi.rai@gmail.com

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