What Is Brij Bhushan Singh’s Future?
In normal circumstances, he would have landed behind bars
With Gonda Member of Parliament (MP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ‘bahubali’ Brij Bhushan Singh given interim bail, against all expectations, following grave allegations of sexually stalking and hounding Indian women wrestlers, including one minor, what has happened to his case and the charge-sheet?
Suddenly, everything seems to have turned hunky-dory. All has become quiet on the wrestling front, and the controversial issue which had rocked the nation for weeks seems to have been effectively buried by all concerned: the Opposition, civil society groups, women’s organisations and the mainline media.
So much so, even the social media, which moved collectively in rage and outrage, in solidarity with the women wrestlers, seem to have moved to typically predictable comfort zones.
With the world champion wrestlers, including their comrade-in-arms, Bajrang Punia, back in the international fray, competing with the best in wrestling, Brij Bhushan Singh had the audacity to come out and speak up for the women of Manipur.
“Incidents happened in Rajasthan and West Bengal as well. So many people died during the elections… The situation in Manipur is difficult. Union Home Minister Amit Shah also camped there. This is a very sad incident which has happened in independent India. The prime minister has taken cognisance of the matter. He has also made remarks on the matter, ” Singh said.
There are serious charges against the muscle-flexing MP, who, apparently, calls the shots in the electoral terrain of Ayodhya, Kaisergunj and Barabanki in UP. He is apparently not in the good books of UP’s Chief Minister Adityanath.
Turf war is certainly one of the reasons. Much of Singh’s swag, sources inform, is because he has been squarely backed by Narendra Modi, who has yet again chosen to be mum. He has been mum on a ravaged Manipur literally trapped in a bloody civil war, despite the relentless killings, rapes, gang-rapes and murders happening in the hinterland of this sensitive-border state, in which, clearly, the Kukis are facing the burnt.
Of all the reported horror-stories of women being assaulted by mobs, or murdered in cold-blood, as that of two young women in a car-wash centre in Imphal, or being burnt alive in her own house, as that of the mother of a freedom fighter, the victims belong to the Kuki community.
In this vicious method in the madness, Modi has backed Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, himself a partisan Meitei, whom he clearly seems to be patronising.
The allegations against the compulsive stalker from Gonda are extremely serious. In normal circumstances, with a different dispensation in Delhi, he would have surely landed behind bars, and, thereby, would have spent a long stint in prison.
After the mass outrage of young boys and girls against the brutalisation of a young woman paramedic, Nirbhaya, inside a moving bus in South Delhi some years ago, the larger social consciousness has turned totally against such acts of brutality and perversion.
So much so, that the Justice J. S. Verma Commission report, constituted after the Nirbhaya rape and murder case, has categorically put the onus on the accused in such cases, while broadening the definition of assaults on women in a wider context. In such a circumstance, it would have been difficult for the BJP MP to escape the process of legitimate law and order, despite all the clout he currently wields, and the unabashed backing he seems to be getting from the top brass of the central government in Delhi.
The Delhi Police has registered two FIRs on April 28, which are linked to six adult women wrestlers and a minor. In at least two cases “sexual favours” have been sought as a quid-pro-quo for so-called professional assistance.
There are as many as 15 incidents of sexual harassment which have been made against the BJP MP. There are also 10 cases of touching inappropriately.
Threats, subtle and overt, intimidating tactics, hounding and stalking, were, thereby, ritualistic behaviour. There were, reportedly, at least, three cases of harassment at the office of the Women’s Federation of India (WFI) itself.
The accusations include forcible contact physically, touching the body, thighs, shoulders, knee, palm, etc. Among gravely serious allegations, he has tried to grasp the breast of a woman, and also tried to touch her stomach. Unsurprisingly, this series of actions happened in the WFI office, yet again.
That is why, a woman wrestler felt deeply uncomfortable when the Delhi police took her to the WFI office, the crime scene “for police investigation”. Not only that, this was widely felt to be unethical, against the law, and a method to demoralise her, and the other women.
Apparently, the house and office of Brij Bhushan Singh are on the same compound. Though the woman wrestler did not meet him, he was reportedly sleeping in his house.
He was in his house but the wrestler and WFI president did not meet each other. The entire episode, though, for only 30 minutes, was, therefore, unnerving for her.
A Delhi Police official said the wrestler, accompanied by women police personnel, was taken to the WFI office at 1.30 pm. “They were there for half-an-hour. They asked her to recreate the scene and recall the places where she faced harassment.”
Soon after, Vinesh Phogat, leader of the struggle, did not mince words when she tweeted in Hindi: “This is the power of Brij Bhushan. He is harassing women wrestlers by using his muscle power, political power and running false narratives, and his arrest is necessary.
“If the police arrest him, instead of breaking us, there is hope of justice, otherwise not… Women wrestlers had gone to the crime scene for police investigation, but it was flashed in the media that they had gone for a compromise.”
Six adult wrestlers have made graphic accusations. One testified that in March, 2022, during a photo-shoot of the team after the trials for the Asian Championships were over in Lucknow, the BJP MP “placed his hands on my buttocks”. Shocked, she tried to move away from him.
In an explosive expose, international wrestling referee, Jagbir Singh, testified to this statement to the Delhi Police. He also testified to the statement of three other wrestlers. Of the 125 witnesses listed, across four states of India, the coach is one of them. As many as 108 witnesses have been reportedly questioned by the police; 15 wrestlers, coaches and referees have testified.
“I saw him standing next to her. She freed herself, pushed away, mumbled and moved away. She was standing next to the president, but then came to the front. I saw how this woman wrestler was reacting and she was uncomfortable. Uske saath kuchh galat hua (Something wrong happened to her).
“I didn’t see him doing the act but uske haath pair khoob chalte the, idhar aa ja, idhar khadi ho ja (He used to keep touching wrestlers, saying come here, come and stand here). From her behaviour, it was clear that something was wrong that day,” the referee said
Besides, in terms of other forms of evidence, there are two photographs, clicked in 2019, which depicts the MP “making advances towards a complainant” in Kazakhstan. There are other details listed in the charge-sheet of this repeated, obsessive, perverse behaviour.
Among other allegations by the different women wrestlers, as published in the ‘Indian Express’, there are: “I was out for dinner in the hotel restaurant, the accused (Singh) called me to his dinner table… placed his hand on my breast, groped me and then slid his hand down to my stomach… repeatedly for 3-4 times…
“In the WFI office … he started touching me inappropriately on my palm, knee, thighs, and shoulders without my consent… he put his hand on my breast and slid it down my stomach on the pretext of checking my breathing.
“I was lying down on the mat, and the accused to my shock and surprise… without seeking my permission pulled up my T-shirt, placed his hand on my breast, and slid it down my stomach on the pretext of checking my breathing….
“At the federation office… I was called into the room of the accused … my brother was asked to stay back… The accused (Singh)… closed the door… pulled me towards himself and tried making forceful physical contact.
“He made me talk to my parents on the phone… the accused called me towards his bed… he tried to hug me forcefully without my permission… He tried to bribe me by offering to buy me supplements which I may require as an athlete in exchange for sexual favours.
“I was standing in the last row (for team photograph)… the accused (Singh) came and stood alongside me. I suddenly felt a hand on my buttock. When I tried moving away, I was forcibly held by my shoulder.
“On the pretext of getting a picture clicked with me, he pulled me towards him by my shoulder… to protect myself, I tried moving away from the accused…
“He said, ‘Zyada smart bann rahi hai kya…aage koi competition nahi khelne kya tune?’ (Acting too smart? Don’t you want to participate in future competitions?)”
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Association had strongly condemned the shabby manner in which the women wrestlers have been being treated in India. Indeed, the Western media had widely reported about their struggle, and how they were dragged and beaten up by the Delhi police not far from the new Parliament building which was being inaugurated by Modi, while the entire Opposition had boycotted it.
Earlier, the wrestlers, their families and friends, were treated rather harshly at Jantar Mantar in Delhi where they waged their protracted and peaceful struggle. So much so, they were not even allowed to use the public toilets. Later, after having beaten them up, and arresting them, their tents were quickly dismantled.
The United World Wrestling (UWW), the global body which governs amateur wrestling, also condemned the arrests and detention of the wrestlers. It categorically threatened the WFI, if its much-delayed elections are not held within the slated time.
“The events of these last days are even more worrying that the wrestlers were arrested and temporarily detained by the police for initiating a march of protest… UWW firmly condemns the treatment and detention of the wrestlers. It expresses its disappointment over the lack of results of the investigations so far. UWW urges the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations.”
Even as students and women’s groups joined the protest, in solidarity, and while they too were detained by the cops, several politicians visited Jantar Mantar in support of the protesters. They included Priyanka Gandhi and Bhupinder Hooda from Congress, Arvind Kejriwal and Atishi from AAP, among others. Mamata Bannerjee has consistently supported the women wrestlers, and she even led a march in Kolkata in their support.
Hundreds of women and men farmers from Western UP, Punjab and Haryana joined them at Jantar Mantar. Kkhaps and farmers organisations held huge solidarity assemblies in various districts and towns. As many as 850 distinguished civil society members – including lawyers, ex-ambassadors, academics, etc, signed a statement in support. There were protests and rallies held all over the country.
“As citizens of a democratic country, we believe that the voices of all citizens are equal. Our demand is simply to let the law of the country apply equally without regard to the position of a person, and that no one is protected by the government and be favoured to escape the usual application of the law,” civil society groups had stated.
“Attempts seem to have been made to discredit young women by spreading all kinds of confusing and misleading information through various media outlets. We believe that the wrestlers are truthful and honest about what they have stated in their public statements…
“We also call upon all concerned citizens to stand resolutely with the wrestlers in these trying times which have serious implications for all women in the country,” they added.
While top current and former cricketers in India, including Sachin Tendulkar, M.S. Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, Virat Kohli, among others refused to utter a word, the wrestlers found a stream of solidarity from various athletes and sportspersons.
They included ace tennis legend and winner of several grand slams, Sania Mirza, Indian football captain Sunil Chetri, former opening batsman Virender Sehwag, former women’s hockey captain, Rani Rampal, world champion shooter and Olympic gold medalist, Abhinav Bindra, Olympic-winner, boxer Vijender Singh, among others.
To the great joy of Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sangeeta Phogat, among others, and everyone’s pleasant surprise, the celebrated cricket team and winners of the World Cup at the Lords in England in June, 1983, came out in with unconditional support to the Indian wrestlers.
In an emotional appeal, the team said: "We are distressed and disturbed at the unseemly visuals of our champion wrestlers being manhandled. We are also most concerned that they are thinking of dumping their hard-earned medals into river Ganga…
“Those medals have involved years of effort, sacrifice, determination, and grit, and are not only their own but the nation's pride and joy. We urge them not to take any hasty decision in this matter and also fervently hope that their grievances are heard and resolved quickly. Let the law of the land prevail…”
Ironically, the statement was reportedly not signed by former all-rounder Roger Binny, who was a member of this team. Why? Because he is now one of the top honchos in the Indian cricket establishment led by Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah. He is currently the president of the cash-rich BCCI.
Politically, the wrestler’s historic movement, unprecedented in the history of Indian sports, will have a far-reaching impact, across at least 40 constituencies in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and western UP, where the farmers have led and participated in long-drawn battles against the Modi regime, including against the three farm bills.
The wrestlers are daughters of farmers, who have grown up in the soil of the land. Their indignity has been taken as an assault on the collective conscience of the farmers’ community.
Sunita Tyagi, a former Zoology professor in Gohana, Sonepat, Haryana, Said, “They are the daughters of Haryana – ‘Haryana ki Beti’. Modi and the BJP will pay a heavy price for protecting a history-sheeter, assaulting our daughters, and dragging them on the streets of Delhi.
“Our brave and resilient girls have shown the way, not only to Haryana, but to the entire country. Their struggle will not go in vain. BJP will be squarely defeated in Haryana and elsewhere in the days to come.”
Indeed, the peaceful struggle by the women wrestlers has touched a deep chord across the country, especially among young girls and women. The unanimous cry of anguish and anger is that if our international role models and achievers, who are symbols of inspiration for the young and aspiring, are treated with such brutality, then it is certainly a dark narrative of brazen injustice which is stalking contemporary India.
Between the brutalised women of the Kuki community, degraded by blood-thirsty mobs in Manipur, the compulsive stalking and physical perversion faced by our champion athletes, the freedom given to the gang-rapists of Bilquis Bano, and the murderers of her child, friends and relatives, who were then garlanded and felicitated as a proud public spectacle, the link is as stark and transparent.
The link lies in the evil which is currently stalking the country. In that sense, the courageous wrestlers have shown us the way.
There is no alternative before India, other than eliminating this evil shadow from our land. Only then can this democracy recover and resurrect its sanity and imagination, whereby women in India can live with freedom, empowerment and self-dignity.