Indian wrestling champions Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia are among the athletes sitting on an infinite protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. They are protesting and demanding action on sexual harassment allegations against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is also a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament (MP).

From making India proud by winning medals to sleeping on the footpath in protest, the nation’s finest and top wrestlers, including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik and Commonwealth Games medallist Vinesh Phogat, said they were forced to protest as the Delhi Police failed to register a first information report (FIR) against Brij Bhushan over sexual harassment of several women wrestlers.

Meanwhile, the government shot off a letter to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president PT Usha, asking the body to make ‘suitable interim arrangements for managing WFI’.

The Ministry has declared as null and void the upcoming elections for the WFI scheduled on May 7. It has asked the IOA to form an ad-hoc committee to conduct the elections within 45 days of its formation.

The government-appointed Oversight Committee (OC), which was appointed in January this year, submitted a report to the Government, which is being studied by the sports ministry. In its letter to the IOA, the sports ministry cited key findings of the committee.

The preliminary report was silent on allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan and cited the absence of an Internal Compliants Committee (ICC) as well as insisting on a need for effective communication between the federation and sportspersons.

“The absence of a duly constituted Internal Complaints Committee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013, and lack of an adequate mechanism for awareness building among sportspersons, for grievance redressal etc; need for more transparency and consultation between and Federation and stakeholders, including the sportspersons; Need for effective communication between the Federation and Sportspersons,” the report underlined.

The wrestlers had started their protest in January 2023, but after assurance from the authorities had suspended their protest. However, the leading wrestlers have said no action has been taken since then.

Speaking to the media at Jantar Mantar on Monday, Phogat said she has to explain her ordeal to everyone, as the media questions the identity of the victims.

“We know stories of a lot of girls and a lot of things have happened in front of us as well but we could not say anything. We have come from poor families and made our careers and in front of us is this powerful man. It is so difficult to get a chance in wrestling. And if we had something then we would have come to zero and our family has nothing,” she said.

Phogat added that she is the sole earning member in her family and could not say anything earlier because her career might be in ruins if she did.

“In my family I am the sole earning member and there is no mode of employment for others. If my career is finished then who would take care of them? We have to take every step carefully. There are a lot of responsibilities on women as it is,” she said, adding that if the girls who have alleged sexual harassment if they come out in open, they would be harassed so much they would regret coming out in the open.

“The worst part is we are the victims; we are being only asked to bring the proof and being harassed. The committee has taken no action, which is why after a lot of struggles we came here. We come from niche rural backgrounds and we had to go tell them what had happened with us. For them to even accept what had happened with us imagine our plight,” she added, visibly tired.

The wrestlers are demanding an FIR be filed against Singh for allegedly sexually harassing women wrestlers while also approaching the Supreme Court.

“We are on the front foot. We are at God’s mercy. But we want to protect young wrestlers. Brij Bhushan is trying to make it a political issue by making it an issue between UP and Haryana. We have wrestlers from UP supporting us,” they said at the press conference on Monday.

Punia, meanwhile, said that all parties are welcome to join their protest. “This time, all parties are welcome to join our protest whether it is BJP, Congress, AAP or any other party. We are not affiliated with any party,” he added.

Many women groups and even farmer unions came in solidarity with the women. Speaking to The Citizen, Dr. Jagmati Sangwan, vice president at All India Democratic Women's Association said it is very important to raise our voices against sexual harassment by sports federations in India.

“No investigation has taken place and these women are facing even more harassment for speaking up. Seven women have come forward to register their complaints but they are not even filing the FIR,” she said.

She also questioned the authenticity of the five-member committee that was established to investigate the matter. “This government is so arrogant that since these girls have started speaking up, none of them have come up here to support these women,” she said.

The activist said that the government does not care about the dignity of women in sports. “Women face discrimination in sports of any kind, despite the fact that they have to face more hardships and if instead of supporting them, you do not even hear their pleas then it is against the values of our country,” she added.

Meanwhile, Dhan Singh Meena, who hailed from Rajasthan’s Jaipur city and is a member of Bharatiya Kisan Sangathan had come in solidarity with the players. Speaking to The Citizen, he said, “These players have made us proud by bringing medals and looking at their state now. We are upset and in solidarity with the women, which is why we have decided that the farmer unions from all over the country are going to come and protest with the wrestlers from Tuesday, if the government fails to take any action.”

The wrestlers have also demanded that the Centre make public the findings of the five-member oversight committee that investigated the allegations against the WFI chief. The wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Ravi Dahiya, had started their protest over the issue in January but ended their sit-in after an assurance from Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.

Thakur had announced the formation of the five-member oversight committee, headed by legendary boxer M.C. Mary Kom, to look into the allegations. The panel submitted its report in the first week of April, but the ministry is yet to make its findings public.

Several women wrestlers, including a minor, have alleged that Singh sexually harassed them during his tenure at the WFI. A complaint was also filed at the Connaught Place police station on April 21.

Delhi Police has sought a report from the investigating committee and said they had received seven complaints and were conducting an inquiry into the matter.

“We never thought that we would have to see this day in our life as we have only done wrestling in life. I have been practising wrestling for the past 18 years and I have not seen a situation so bad. But so much injustice is happening that we had to give this protest,” Malik told the media here.

She added that Brij Bhushan, despite being accused, is still running federations, which point out towards the “inaction of the authorities”.

An Indian federation member who was part of the protest on the condition of anonymity said whatever is happening is not shocking.

“Bhushan helps BJP win elections with majority seats, they would obviously support him,” they said, adding that other sports federations, however, have little power in the matter.

On Sunday, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) said it had received a complaint from the women wrestlers alleging that they had given a written complaint to police two days back, but no FIR had not been registered till now. The wrestlers have stressed that they would remain at the protest site till police file an FIR in the case.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Monday extended support to agitating wrestlers and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence on the issue. All India Mahila Congress chief Netta D’Souza also visited the protest site at Jantar Mantar.

Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said he will meet the wrestlers on Tuesday while his son and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Deepinder Singh Hooda demanded an FIR against WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and a CBI probe into the matter.

“Modi ji break your silence! The players who have made the country proud in the world are sitting at Jantar Mantar against ‘sexual harassment’, but why no action is being taken,” AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet in Hindi.

“It is a matter of great regret that international level players who have brought laurels to the country have to sit on dharna, they should get justice,” Bhupinder Singh Hooda said.

He said he will visit the protest site at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on Tuesday and meet the protesting wrestlers. “A wrong happened with these daughters who raised the glory of the country, they raised their voice against the wrong, but what did they get,” Mahila Congress chief Netta D’Souza asked.

“Instead of getting justice, they are in tears and the prime minister and his coterie, who make tall claims on women’s safety, are sitting silently to save the BJP MP,” she alleged.

“Prime Minister ji, you will have to account for each and every tear of these daughters who raised the country’s prestige at the international level,” D’Souza added.

The wrestlers refused to budge and spent their second night at Jantar Mantar on Monday.