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Indian Wrestlers Demanding Arrest of Sports Official for Sexual Abuse Suspend Protests

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Indian Wrestlers Demanding Arrest of Sports Official for Sexual Abuse Suspend Protests

The sports minister promised a swift probe into alleged sexual harassment by Wrestling Federation of India Chief and BJP parliamentarian Brij Bhushan Singh.

Indian Wrestlers Demanding Arrest of Sports Official for Sexual Abuse Suspend Protests

Sakshi Malik, an Indian wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, sits with fellow wrestlers by the banks of the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo

Elite wrestlers who are demanding the resignation and arrest of India’s wrestling federation president for allegedly sexually harassing young athletes have suspended their protests after the country’s sports minister promised a swift investigation.

The protesting wrestlers have been staging a protest in the center of New Delhi for months seeking the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied the allegations.

They met with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur on Wednesday. Thakur said the police would file charges by June 15, and that the wrestlers had assured him they would not hold any protests until then.

India’s federal government has also promised to hold elections for the top positions in the wrestling federation by the end of this month. Singh continues to head the federation.

Two Olympic medalists, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, are part of the protests and have threatened to hand back their medals if no action is taken against Singh.

Last month, the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were briefly detained as they tried to march to India’s new parliament on the day it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Last week, the wrestlers threatened to dump their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river – but stopped at the last moment. A delegation of protesters also met India’s Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence last week.

The protesting wrestlers have accused Singh, a 66-year-old powerful lawmaker representing the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, of sexually harassing seven young female wrestlers. Singh has called the protests “politically motivated.”

Vinesh Phogat, who has won wrestling medals at the world championships, Commonwealth Games, and Asian Games, claimed in January that several coaches have exploited female wrestlers at the behest of the WFI president.

Indian police are investigating the allegations against Singh, and he has been questioned in the case. India’s Supreme Court has also acknowledged that the case involves “serious allegations of sexual harassment.”

The protests have found support from India’s opposition parties and farmer unions. Most of the Indian wrestlers come from the northern agricultural states of Haryana and Punjab.

The case has again highlighted the #MeToo movement in India, which picked up pace in 2018 when a spate of actresses and writers flooded social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault.