Indian wrestlers call off protest against sexual harassment

Move comes after national federation’s head steps down until claims against him are investigated


AFP January 21, 2023

NEW DELHI:

India's top wrestlers have called off a protest after the head of the sport's national federation reportedly agreed to step aside until claims of sexual harassment against him are investigated.

Dozens of male and female wrestlers, including Olympic and Commonwealth medallists, had announced a boycott of all competitions until Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was removed.

Singh, who is also a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has denied the allegations.

Wrestler Bajrang Punia announced the decision to call off the protest after talks with India's Sports Minister Anurag Thakur on Friday.

"The minister told us that a committee will be formed (to look into the allegations) and it will complete its work in one month," Punia told reporters.

"We are confident that a thorough probe will be conducted."

Thakur said Singh "will step aside" until the investigation is completed within four weeks, the Times of India reported.

The protesting athletes were being led by Vinesh Phogat, a three-time Commonwealth Games champion and one of India's most decorated woman wrestlers.

Phogat has accused Singh of harassing "several young wrestlers" and said that she knew "at least 10 to 20 girls" who had recounted sexual harassment at wrestling camps.

She has said that both girls and boys have come forward to accuse other senior figures in the sport of harassment and bullying.

In a letter to P.T. Usha, president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) on Friday, Phogat and other top athletes said it had taken a lot of courage for them to come forward.

Phogat said that she was "mentally harassed and tortured" by Singh after she failed to win an Olympic medal and "almost contemplated suicide".

Hours after receiving the letter, the IOA announced a seven-member panel to investigate all harassment charges against Singh.

Singh has dismissed the allegations as a political ploy to usurp his position and told media he was "ready to be hanged" if even a single woman wrestler proved the sexual harassment charge.

India is a deeply hierarchical society and Phogat said many wrestlers were intimidated into not coming forward because of their humble origins.

The allegations come months after the coach of the country's national cycling team was sacked following sexual harassment charges.

India's #MeToo movement gathered momentum in 2018 after a Bollywood actress accused a senior actor of sexual harassment.

Soon after, other women came forward with multiple allegations, including against a former government minister, but activists say there has been little fundamental change.

 

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