Women Across India Stand in Solidarity with the Struggling Wrestlers
End impunity of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, MP & Ex-President, Wrestling Federation of India accused under multiple charges of sexual abuse, including POCSO.
- The immediate arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
- Scrapping of the Oversight and IOA committees which fail to comply with the law.
- Fair investigation and early charge sheet in all the cases.
- Action against Delhi police personnel for irregularities and assault on the protestors.
19 May, 2023
The President of India
New Delhi 110001
Subject: Justice for the 7 wrestlers, including 1 minor, who have faced sexual abuse by the erstwhile President of WFI, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, MP.
Women’s organisations in India, have come together to protest the sexual violence that seven wrestlers were subjected to by the former President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), and against systemic support granted to the main accused, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. We have been shocked to learn that since February 2011 when he took over as President, he has, with utter impunity, indulged in multiple serious acts of sexual violence on women of all ages, not even sparing under 18-year-old girls. Whether trainees or contestants or champions, he grabbed them whenever he got a chance and lost no opportunity to get intimate with them. Despite such conduct, Singh consistently held the post of President, WFI, till May 2023.
The entire community of the federation was witness to what was happening. But Singh has been so powerful that when women players pleaded with their coaches that they did not wish to meet him even for official purposes, the coaches would state their helplessness. There was no escape for them to not meet their aggressor. The culture of fear and intimidation that pervaded the federation, fear of losing out on selections and victimisation if they did not comply, forced them to keep their silence.
It is important to know that the sports bodies failed to have any internal complaints committees as mandated by the law, or redressal mechanisms where they could raise their voice against such continued threats to their safety and violations of their bodily integrity.
When it became impossible to bear anymore, a group of wrestlers decided to break their silence and register their protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. On 18 January, 2023 several women wrestlers, supported by their male counterparts made public their allegations of sexual violence against Singh.
In response, the Sports Ministry, and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) each formed a committee. But both failed to comply with the law.
The IOA committee was formed on 21 January 2023 with Olympic boxing medallist MC Mary Kom as its chairperson. Other members included Joint Secretary IOA, Alaknanda Ashok, and sportspersons Sahdev Yadav, Dola Banerjee, Yogeshwar Dutt, and lawyers, Shlok Chandra and Talish Ray. Notably, the committee had no external, independent member as required by the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. (POSH Act)
Curiously, on 23 January 2023, the Sports Ministry appointed an Oversight Committee, also headed by MC Mary Kom, again with Yogeshwar Dutt as one the members. The others included former CEO of Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) Capt Rajagopalan, former SAI Executive Director (Teams) Radhika Sreeman, and sportsperson Trupti Murgunde. Later, wrestling champion Babita Phogat was included as a sixth member. The oversight committee was supposed to look into the charges of sexual harassment, corruption and also take care of the functioning of the WFI during the period of its enquiry. It was asked to give its report in a months’ time.
In our experience as women’s groups who have worked on these issues for decades, the simultaneous establishment of two such committees over the same issue are bound to be detrimental to the cause of justice, more so with both being headed by the same Chairperson and having one common member as well. Clearly, the Sports Ministry as well as the IOA was interested in creating optics of having ‘taking action,’ rather than complying with the law to provide justice.
The complainants rightly opposed the formation of these two committees stating that it would lead to a precarious situation of two parallel committees with same members and overlapping jurisdictions. The wrestlers had further added that a member of the IOA committee had made public his bias, when he told reporters that the allegations might be fake and that there needed to be a probe into the motive behind these allegations.
The complainants thus sought the constitution of an impartial, fair, and independent enquiry. In fact, they requested the IOA committee to be kept in abeyance until the Sports ministry decided on their objection. “Furthermore,” they wrote, “it would be appreciated if all communications are kept confidential as the matter under enquiry is sensitive and unwarranted disclosure may be prejudicial to the victims.”
The ordeal of facing the Oversight Committee.
All the complainants deposed in front of the Oversight committee, including the minor complainant. But they were intimidated by supporters of the accused who were standing outside the venue in large numbers. Instead of being objective and impartial, some committee members accused them of lying and ‘misinterpreting’ Singh’s actions. The complainants have raised concerns about how faithfully their testimonies were recorded. In addition, they were also asked to give video and audio ‘proof’ of what happened to them.
The committee also recorded the statement of the accused.
The report of the oversight committee was handed to the Sports Ministry on 8 April, 2023. But nothing has been disclosed so far, except its finding that the no Internal Complaints Committee in compliance with the POSH Act had been put in place in WFI.
The fate of the IOA Committee remains unclear.
On 23 April 2023, the wrestlers returned to protest in Delhi with the singular demand of criminal action against the accused, Brij Bhushan Saran Singh.
With no outcome emerging and having lost faith in the process of the committees, the wrestlers were left with no option but to return to Delhi. They filed their complaints at the Connaught Place Police Station, under which the office of the WFI comes, but the police refused to register the FIRs. Finally, the complainants were compelled to move the Supreme Court for the same. The bench of the CJI directed the Delhi Police to lodge the FIRs on 28 April 2023. Two FIRs lodged are number 0077/ 2023 Police Station Connaught Place, u/s 354, 354 (A), 354 (D)/ 34 and u/s 10, Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill (POCSO), 2011. And FIR number 0078/ 2023, u/s 354, 354 (A), 354 (D)/ 34 with 6 complainants.
To date, all the seven complainants have given their Sec 161 statements, and the Sec 164 CrPC statements of four, including the minor, have been taken.
Despite 164 CrPC statements and POCSO charges, the accused remains a free man. When faced with POCSO charges, this is absolutely unheard of. Hence, the struggle for the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh continues.
Midnight assault on the protestors by Delhi Police on 4 May 2023.
Within days of the FIRs being lodged, and the protest galvanising itself with the demand of the arrest of the accused, they were attacked on the night of 4 May, 2023 by the Delhi police. Amongst those injured were two players, a journalist and even the Chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, Swati Maliwal, was not spared. No FIRs have been lodged regarding this attack, and no action taken against erring officials.
The concern of women’s movement is that the entire struggle of the young wrestlers to bring to public notice the violence they have been subjected to, and their struggle for justice, has been received with deafening silence and denial across the board – from the Hon’ble Prime Minister to the Home Ministry, the Sports Ministry, other sports bodies, the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, the Law Ministry as well as autonomous bodies such as the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and so on.
Sirs, the brazen manner in which there is the non-implementation of the Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) mandated under the POSH Act, 2013, in majority of the sports bodies at the national level, shows a derailment of the last 25 years of work since the SC guidelines were formulated in the Vishakha and Ors matter, and the passage of the POSH Act in 2013.
What deepens our concern at this particular moment is that Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is not the first BJP MP, who seems to be protected by systemic support in the face of his alleged crimes. In the recent times, too many accused with strong political connections have been able to get away with crimes of sexual violence including members of Parliament and Legislature, godmen and so on. As if the impunity of such abusers was not bad enough, last year the nation witnessed with shock how rapists convicted for life for having committed gangrape and murder in Gujarat, 2002, were granted remission, just 11 years after their sentencing.
The systemic culture of getting away after committing serious sexual violence has only strengthened in the last ten years, upturning the culture of justice in sexual crimes.
This is despite the widespread rhetoric of “Beti Bachao…” which has lost all meaning in the face of increasing injustices on women and girls, and brazen impunity and state support for the accused. But the people of India will not be silent witnesses to such criminality. The struggle for justice for the wrestlers has now turned into a people’s movement for justice.
As women’s groups and concerned individuals from across the country, we demand that:
- Former President WFI, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh must be arrested immediately, in the POCSO and other cases.
- The two committees of the IOA and the Sports ministry which examined the incidents of sexual violence of the wrestlers be scrapped completely, as they were not compliant with the law.
- Delhi Police must conduct free and fair investigation of the seven cases of sexual violence filed by wrestlers including that by a minor, and strong chargesheets be filed at the earliest
- Action be taken u/s 166 A (b) IPC against the Connaught Place station house office and other police officials who refused to lodge the FIR, delayed taking statements under Sec. 161 and 164, CrPC.
- Action be taken against the functionaries of Parliament Street police station, who meted violence on the protestors on the night of 4 May 2023
- Senior officials be made accountable for the crimes of omission and commission of the officials and the police.
It is imperative that all sports bodies at the national and state level have Internal Complaints Committees with external, independent members, as prescribed under the POSH Act, 2013.
The SC order of 12 May 2023, regarding setting up ICC as mandated by the POSH Act, within 8 weeks, should be implemented to the hilt.
Sexual harassment free workplaces must be ensured for all our sports players.
Purogami Mahila Sangathan, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) Delhi, All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan (AIMSS), ANHAD, Centre for Struggling Women (CSW), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) Delhi, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan Delhi, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Delhi, Saheli Women’s Resource Centre and Indian Christian Women’s Movement Delhi.