NEW DELHI (Reuters): India’s top wrestlers said they had decided to suspend protests on Wednesday after the country’s sports minister promised a swift probe of their federation chief who they accused six months ago of sexually harassing female athletes.
The wrestlers have been camping in New Delhi for months since April seeking the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied the allegations.
Last month, the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were briefly detained as they kept demanding action against Singh, who is also a powerful member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a federal lawmaker.
Olympic medalist Bajrang Punia was part of the wrestling delegation that met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence on Wednesday, a meeting that lasted nearly six hours.
“The government has assured that they would complete the police investigations against Singh by June 15 so we have suspended the protest till then,” said Punia, who won the men’s 65 kg freestyle bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.
Singh, a six-time member of parliament, has been accused of sexually assaulting seven female athletes, including a minor.
His lawyer rejected all the allegations levelled by the wrestlers and said Singh was cooperating with the police in the probe.
Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat and Punia had to be talked out of plans to dump their medals in a river in protest on May 30.
“Those moments when we were dragged and roughed up by the police were deeply humiliating for all the wrestlers as all we want is justice for seven female victims of sexual abuse,” Punia said.
The rumbling protest and police action against the top athletes have shone a spotlight on the government’s delay in dealing with a criminal complaint against a member of the ruling BJP.
Sports Minister Thakur, who is also a member of the ruling BJP, said the police would file a chargesheet by June 15, and that the wrestlers had assured him they would refrain from any demonstration until then.
“They have asked us to complete the investigation and file the chargesheet by June 15, we will do that,” the minister told reporters.
The Sport and Rights Alliance, a global coalition of non-governmental organizations that promotes human rights in sport, urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure a transparent, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations.
“It takes a lot of courage to break the silence and disclose a case of sexual abuse,” network coordinator Joanna Maranhao said.
“We stand with the athletes and encourage the IOC to protect them, especially in this deeply power-imbalanced situation. Their wellbeing should be the top priority.”
United World Wrestling (UWW), the sport’s international governing body, issued a statement last week condemning the brief detention of the wrestlers and criticizing the “lack of results” in the investigations against Singh.
It has also threatened to suspend WFI if it fails to hold a fresh election this month.