Story So Far: #MeToo moment of India's wrestling world
The Sports Ministry to begin a probe into the sexual harassment allegations.
India's wrestlers, who were protesting in Delhi since Wednesday against the alleged sexual harassment of wrestlers by the Wrestling federation India’s (WFI's) chief Brijbhushan Sharan Singh and several coaches, called off their protest late on Friday night. The decision came following two rounds of talks with Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and assurances that their grievances would be addressed. One of the major assurances included stepping aside of Singh as WFI Chief pending investigation.
This week, India's wrestling world was rocked with #MeToo allegations as allegations of sexual harassment were made against the WFI chief and several other wrestlers. On Wednesday, January 18, around 200 athletes including India’s wrestling stars such as three-time commonwealth medalist Vinesh Phogat, Olympic Bronze medalists Bajarang Punia and Sakshi Malik sat on a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar demanding the dissolution of WFI and a change of management saying people part of WFI know nothing about wrestling.
On Friday, the wrestlers wrote a letter to PT Usha, President of the Indian Olympics Association (IOA), putting forth their demands to her, which also included asking for a thorough probe into the allegations of sexual misconduct. This came a day after she had extended their support to the protesting wrestlers.
On the same day, the wrestlers had a second meeting with the Sports Minister, after failing to reach a breakthrough in the first meeting on Thursday night. After the meeting, late on Friday night, the wrestlers called off the protest saying that the minister had listened to their demands and assured them that a probe will take place.
Thakur also gave a statement saying an oversight committee will be formed to look after the day-to-day affairs of the WFI, while Singh has been asked to step aside as chief pending investigation. He also added that the committee will complete its investigation in four weeks and will thoroughly probe all the allegations that have been leveled against WFI and its chief.
Earlier, on Thursday, BJP leader and Olympian Babita Phogat had met the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar with “a message from the Government”, assuring that the government was with them. On Wednesday, the Centre had made it clear that if the WFI does not respond in the next three days, the sports ministry "will proceed to initiate action". The chief of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Swati Maliwal, had also reached Jantar Mantar immediately to support the women wrestlers. DCW has issued notice to the sports ministry and asked the city police to file a case.
Brijbhushan Sharan Singh is BJP MP from Kaiserganj. He is a six-time MP, he has been holding WFI President’s post since 2011. He was elected as president of WFI for 3rd time in 2019.
On Thursday, Singh rebutted all accusations saying he will commit suicide if allegations were found to be true. He said, “All the sexual harassment allegations are false, and I will commit suicide if they are found to be true. I tried to get in touch with the wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia, but was unable to do so.”
BJP MP & President of Wrestling Federation Brij Bhushan Sharan slapping a wrestler on stage for asking questions. He has been accused of sexual harrasment by many female wrestlers.— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) January 19, 2023
Other BJP MPs like Tejaswi Surya are also trending on twitter.
BJP has a knack for picking people! pic.twitter.com/Y8udPJbVJE
Meanwhile, at a wrestling event on Saturday, Singh's supporters welcomed him with garlands at a wrestling event despite the charges against him. A TOI report also said that the emergency council of the IOA was not happy with the wrestlers for going public with their grievances without first talking with the sports ministry, the IOA and the Sports Authority of India or SAI.
This is not the first time that leaders and coaches are accused of sexual harassment in the world of sports. The most recent sexual harassment allegation was against Haryana Minister Sandeep Singh by a woman coach. Last year, in June, R K Sharma chief coach of the country's national cycling team was sacked after sexual harassment charges. In July 2021, Tamil Nadu's field and track coach P Nagarajan was accused by seven women athletes of sexual abuse over several years. Just before that Nagarajan was accused by a 19-year-old athlete.
At the international level too, last year, Chinese professional tennis player Peng Shuai accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. In 2016, former USA gymnast Rachael Denhollander was one of two female gymnasts who had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics national team doctor.
The #MeToo movement began worldover after numerous sexual-abuse allegations were made against film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017. Several actors and members of the film industry came forward sharing their experiences of facing sexual assault after this. The #MeToo movement got widespread media coverage and discussion of sexual harassment which led to high-profile terminations in Hollywood.
In India, the #MeToo campaign gained momentum in late 2018 when actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. Since then, the movement has continued to make ripples across fields from music, classical dance, sports, etc.
With inputs from Rakesh Nevase.