Indian female wrestlers threaten to forfeit medals over sexual assault
India's female wrestlers express their frustration over authorities' inactivity regarding multiple sexual assault cases against the President of the Wrestling Federation of India.
India's top female wrestlers have threatened to forfeit their Olympic medals to pressure authorities to move forward with a sexual harassment case they filed over alleged abuses by the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik were among the top wrestlers to participate in a protest in central New Delhi, demanding an investigation and the arrest of Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, the president of WFI, who they claim sexually assaulted multiple female athletes over the past decade.
The sports official also happens to be serving his 5th term as a Member of Parliament with India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janat Party (BJP), which, according to the wrestlers, has given Singh protection from the government and police that are obstructing investigation efforts into the allegations.
On his part, the MP has denied the allegations which he described as "baseless", claiming that they align with a larger conspiracy to expel him from parliament. The official defended himself on Indian television, saying that he only hugged one of the wrestlers in "a fatherly manner."
Wrestling star Phogat revealed that he has raised the allegation to multiple bodies, including the local WFI, the Indian Olympic Association, the Indian Ministry of Sports, and the Indian police, all of which took no action against Singh. Phogat who has won awards at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and Asian Games said she was "mentally harassed and tortured" by the president of WFI.
"We have tried at every level to raise this but we have been ignored and silenced and it has been very difficult," Malik, the first woman to win an Olympic medal for wrestling for her country, said. She also revealed that 6 junior female wrestlers attempted to file a complaint against Singh to Uttar Pradesh Police, in 2012, but the case was buried in less than a day.
Fast forward to January 2023, the women exposed the case to the general public when they started protesting Singh's alleged crimes in India's capital, New Delhi. According to the group, the government approached them right after their first protest, as the Minister of Sport, Anurag Thakur, promised them that a committee will be set up to investigate the allegations; a promise that has led to no report regarding the allegations since.
The Olympic medalist Malik described the process as "a systematic attempt by the government to silence our complaints."
Police only filed a case last week after the wrestlers headed to the supreme court, but none of them have been called upon to give their statements or evidence regarding the claims.
"For the past three months, the government completely failed in protecting us," stated Malik.
The Sports Minister denied any cover-up saying investigations are ongoing, while the women said authorities are "happily profiting" from the women's international achievements as they deny them protection while further inflicting physical harm upon them as they demonstrate.
"We have staked everything that we have – our careers, our reputations, even our lives – in order to raise this issue," Malik stressed. "We are not raising this just for ourselves, it’s for all the girls who have faced harassment from powerful men and haven’t been able to speak out," she added, as the wrestlers' case highlights the difficult circumstances women in India have to go through when speaking about cases of sexual harassment, especially when facing men in positions of power such as Brijbhushan Sharan Singh.