India’s top wrestlers called off their protest over sexual exploitation against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) at Capital’s Jantar Mantar in the wee hours of Saturday after the federation president stepped aside and the Union sports minister Anurag Thakur promised the formation of an oversight committee to look into the allegations.
The committee has been given four weeks to come up with the report.
World Championship medallist Vinesh, Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat and Commonwealth Games medallist Sumit Malik were among the wrestlers who had been protesting since Wednesday against sexual exploitation of women wrestlers and coaches and demanded action from the ministry against the officials of WFI.
“The Union sports minister has listened to our demands and has assured us that a proper investigation will take place. I thank him and we are hopeful that a fair probe will be done, hence we are calling off the protest,” said Bajrang to the media after the long meeting with the minister.
Earlier on Friday, Vinesh said, “The girls’ life is in danger, the life of their families is in danger. Some of the wrestlers are going through depression, they have left wrestling.”
“The allegation is against a vice-president… We (wrestlers) have written letter, sent a lot of copies to the federation, that we are getting tortured, getting mentally harassed, we are getting assaulted but the federation has not responded at all. It is a big issue, and if I speak [about the issue] then the president [of WFI] will also understand. It (the matter) is being suppressed,” she added.
Vinesh had said that they came to protest at Jantar Mantar as the last resort.
“We had lost self-respect, that is why are here on the street. This is a fight for self-respect, for the girls and I keep saying that this concerns the girls. It is a sensitive matter. If things aren’t sorted out today, then you might see a wrestling mat here, tomorrow morning. We assure you,” said Vinesh while addressing the media.
“It is a serious matter. If this were solved through a meeting only, then this issue would not have gone this far. But we want to be assured. We have kept plenty of demands with the sports minister,” added the wrestler who won bronze in the 2019 and 2022 World Championships as well as a gold at the 2018 Asian Games.
Asked if the allegation is not on the president but only on the supporting staff and by seeking action against WFI president, they are being harsh, the 28-year-old said, “It was the president who was saying that nobody has complained that this (sexual exploitation) happened to us. That complaint has been made. We have proof. Those girls are giving proof to us through phone. I can’t name the girls because their life is in danger and it is a big issue. They are not from my state but from a state where women wrestlers are very few.”
Bajrang Punia, who won bronze at 2020 Tokyo Olympics and one silver as well as three bronze medals said that if need arises they will file an FIR and in fact, go to every extent possible
“Yes, we will do FIR too. We will go every extent. Let us see what the sports minister has to offer,” said the 28-year-old.
Coach Shaukinder Tomar said that these girls have done the country proud and it is unfortunate that they are being subjected to this.
“Girls have been sexually exploited and it is very unfortunate for the nation. These girls have made the country proud at the international level. They have been sexually exploited, they are sitting to seek justice and we are hopeful that the government will hear this matter,” he said.
An old wrestler who did not want to be identified said that this has been going on for a quite long time.
“This has been happening for quite some time. We have been hearing that the girls are asked for [sexual] favours,” he said.
Apart from the wrestlers, there were others who swelled the numbers. Yashpal Malik, a former president of Jat reservation movement, said that he expects the government to come out with swift justice as cases of sexual exploitation is a serious matter.
“They have demanded action and the government should pay attention. The charges they have levelled are very serious allegations. Nobody would want to harm his or her reputation [by coming out]. The government should think of it seriously. These girls have made the country proud and they should get swift justice,” he said.
“It is wrong that the government has taken two days. If a common man were there, he would have been in jail in 20 minutes. Sexual exploitation is serious. Courts have said too. Biggest athletes of the world are here,” he said further.
There were some who said that the president of WFI, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also a Member of Parliament, should first resign and then initiate investigation.