The Supreme Court on May 4 closed the petition filed by three women wrestlers who have been sitting in protest against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh since January this year.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Narasimha, and Justice Pardiwala took note of the fact that the Delhi Police have registered FIRs against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over alleged sexual harassment; hence the purpose has been served.
The bench, however, granted liberty to the petitioners to approach the jurisdictional magistrate or invoke the remedy under Section 482 CrPC before the Delhi High Court in case of any further grievances.
The wrestlers have been sitting in protest for a few months now, and many players have taken part in this ongoing tussle. Last night the protest took a violent turn when the wrestlers alleged that the Delhi Police got into an altercation with them. Politicians from Congress and AAP reached the spot and added to the scuffle and chaos.
Let’s take a look at the timeline of this controversy so far and examine all the players and twists involved:
January 18: Wrestlers start a protest at the Jantar Mantar, Delhi, alleging sexual harassment charges against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh. Vinesh Phogat, a female wrestler, also claims that she has received death threats from various WFI officials. She, along with Sakshi Malik and Punia, also hints at an environment of “intimidation” in national camps, demanding Singh’s resignation. Sports Ministry seeks an explanation from the WFI and gives it 72 hours to respond. Singh refutes all charges levelled against him and says he is ready for any inquiry.
January 19: Former wrestler Babita Phogat, of Geeta-Babita fame, meets the wrestlers and says she will speak to the government regarding their grievances. Other wrestlers from Haryana and Delhi also come out in support. Wrestlers also meet Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence, but the long meeting, which though going into wee-hours, leads to no solution.
January 20: The protest continues, and this time the wrestlers even write a letter to the Indian Olympic Association president PT Usha. They now demand the dissolution of WFI and the formation of an inquiry committee to probe the allegations.
January 20: An IOA is formed, following the wrestlers’ demands that constitute a seven-member panel, including the 2012 Olympic medallist MC Mary Kom.
January 21: Sports Minister Anurag Thakur says an Oversight Committee will also be formed to probe the allegations, and Singh will step aside till the inquiry is completed.
January 21: WFI submits their response to the Sports Ministry, which says, “Not a single allegation of sexual harassment is accepted nor has ever been noticed nor found nor so far complained nor reported to sexual harassment committee to WFI, hence allegations to that effect are equally malicious and unfounded without being any truth in the matter”.
April 16: WFI announces a fresh election to be held on May 7, after the Oversight Committee’s report, which the Sports Ministry doesn’t make public. Singh says he will not contest for the President’s post.
April 23: Wrestlers, including Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, return once again to the protest site at Jantar Mantar. They now add how seven female wrestlers, including a minor, have filed sexual harassment complaints against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, but the Delhi Police has not registered FIR.
April 25: Wrestlers move the Supreme Court seeking registration of FIR against Singh. SC terms the sexual harassment allegations against Singh as “serious” and issues a notice to the Delhi Police asking it to file its response.
April 27: IOA forms a three-member panel. Former international athlete PT Usha says that protesting wrestlers should have shown some discipline and addressed the matter with the IOA instead of taking to the streets.
April 28: Delhi Police informs Supreme Court that an FIR against Singh is being registered. A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha also directs the Delhi Police Commissioner to assess any perceived threat to the complainants. Wrestlers say they will continue their protest until they see BBS Singh behind bars.
Who’s saying what:
Vinesh Phogat says, “We’re Olympians, gold medalists, world champions… We’re dedicated (our lives) to our country. We realised we have just one avenue left … to appeal to the public; if we get public support, then at least we’ll know the country stands with us.
Former WFI President and accused BBS Singh, on the other hand, has, in turn, accused the wrestlers of playing a “political game,” alleging opposition parties were behind the protests. “I am completely innocent and have full faith in the Supreme Court and Delhi police. I am ready for the investigation,” Singh said.
India’s sports minister Anurag Thakur told reporters during a news conference that there would be an “impartial probe” into the allegations against Singh.
The Major players of the Controversy between Wrestlers and WFI:
- Brij Bhushan Singh, President of the Wrestling Federation of India
- Prominent protesting wrestlers like Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Malik.
- Deepender Singh Hooda.
- “Activists” who are reaching the protest site to appropriate the moment.
Let’s look back at the series of events. In 2011, elections happened for the President post of Wrestling Fed of India (WFI), where J&K-based wrestler Dushyant Sharma became the President, but the Haryana Wrestling Federation challenged this election in the Delhi High Court, asking for re-election, where Congress leader Deepender Singh Hooda and then Samajwadi leader BBS Singh contested.
Deepender Singh Hooda eventually withdrew, and BBS Singh became the President of WFI in 2012. The President’s post is for 4 years, and BBS won the simultaneous elections in 2015 and 2019 also. Meanwhile, Deepender Hooda became the President of the Haryana Wrestling Fed in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
BBS Singh also became one of the most successful Presidents of WFI in Indian history, winning many medals during his tenure. This could’ve started an undercurrent of politics between Haryana wrestlers and those from the other parts of India – like the famous tussle between Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav on who would represent India at the Olympics. WFI subsequently fixed a quota for every state, which was heavily opposed by the Haryana federation, but WFI didn’t retreat. During this time, the WFI also removed Deepender Hooda from the post of President of the Haryana Federation and appointed Rohtas Singh as the new President. There was also players’ unrest at the time, as Bajrang, Vinesh and Sakshi were seen opposing new selection rules, and they didn’t participate in National Games in Gujarat. WFI made it clear that only those who participated in the selection trial would be considered for the Asian Games.
Cut to Jan 2023, and the protest against BBS Singh started at Jantar Mantar. While the players’ initial allegations were the working style of BB Singh but soon the sexual harassment angle came.
With the Haryana elections around the corner, this has become a highly politically charged movement, especially as one of the wrestlers was heard shouting on TV cameras last night, “Come with your tractors to Delhi”. It has many angles, anti-women, anti-Jat, Jat-Rajput etc.
When asked why the players have stayed quiet for so long, Sakshi Mallik said they are fearful of Brij Bhushan’s power and influence. “This is the reason why we were quiet for so long. We wanted to wrestle and save our careers because we knew how it would end. We did not dare to raise our voices back then, but today we have reached a level where we can speak for our fellow athletes,” Sakshi told the media on Tuesday.
Even though the Supreme Court has acknowledged that FIRs have been filed, the wrestlers don’t look like they are in any mood to end the protest or disperse. Their reasoning for this is that the last time they packed up, nothing happened. Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik are all favourites to win medals at the Asian Games in September-October, but they seem to be making this fight a priority. The sports ministry has handed matters off to the Indian Olympic Association, which is in line with the Olympic charter, which frowns upon direct governmental interference in the running of an Olympic sport’s national federation.