Table of Contents
Indian Wrestlers vs WFI chief Protest Timeline: India’s top wrestlers staged an unprecedented sit-in protest in January 2023, against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and a BJP Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh. The wrestlers alleged that Singh had sexually harassed them for years and created an environment of fear and intimidation in national camps. The protest, which started on January 18, was led by Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia, two-time world championships medallist Vinesh Phogat, and Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik.
The wrestlers demanded Singh’s resignation and the dissolution of the WFI. The Sports Ministry also sought an explanation from the WFI and gave it 72 hours to respond, warning that action could be taken against the federation as per the provisions of the National Sports Development Code if the deadline was not met.
Here’s How the Indian Wrestlers’ Protest Unfolded – The Timeline
Wrestlers gathered at the protest site in Jantar Mantar and accused Singh of sexual harassment over many years. They also claimed that some national coaches act on his behalf and there is an environment of fear and intimidation in national camps. The wrestlers demanded Singh’s resignation and dissolution of the WFI, and also threatened to file an FIR against Singh if needed. The Sports Ministry took notice of the allegations and sought an explanation from the WFI within 72 hours, warning of action if the federation fails to respond.
Wrestlers continued their protest, and BJP member and former wrestler Babita Phogat joined the protest and promised to speak to the government. Top wrestlers, including Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ravi Dahiya and world championships medallist Deepak Punia, also supported the protest. The wrestlers met with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur late at night.
Wrestlers wrote a complaint letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president PT Usha, demanding Singh’s resignation, formation of an inquiry committee, dissolution of WFI, and appointing a new committee to run WFI in consultation with the wrestlers.
The IOA constituted a seven-member panel under multiple world champion and 2012 Olympic medallist MC Mary Kom to inquire into the allegations.
After receiving assurances from the Sports Ministry that their concerns would be looked into and an Oversight Committee would be established to investigate their accusations, the wrestlers ended their protests.
The Oversight Committee, headed by Mary Kom, was given four weeks to complete the probe. Sports Minister Anurag Thakur said the WFI president would temporarily step aside for four weeks, until the Oversight Committee submitted its findings.
The Ministry suspended all ongoing activities of WFI, including a ranking tournament in Gonda and scheduled emergency AGM meeting of WFI, and also suspended assistant secretary of WFI, Vinod Tomar.
Mary Kom led the five-member Oversight Committee, which was created to investigate the allegations made by the wrestlers and oversee WFI’s daily operations for four weeks. The committee also included Yogeshwar Dutt, Trupti Murgunde, Rajesh Rajagopalan, and Radhika Sreeman.
Protesting wrestlers expressed disappointment on Twitter for not being consulted before the formation of the Oversight Committee by the government, despite assurances given to them.
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) January 24, 2023
Also Read | Top 13 Indian Wrestlers in WWE Who Made it BIG!
The Sports Ministry added Babita Phogat to the Oversight Committee, a week after wrestlers’ complaints.
The Sports Ministry extended the Oversight Committee for two weeks, and UWW stripped India of hosting rights for 2023 Asian Wrestling Championships.
The Asian Wrestling Championships commenced in Astana, Kazakhstan without Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya or Vinesh Phogat in the Indian team. The trio did not qualify for the event as they skipped the trials.
WFI announced an election on May 7 after the Oversight Committee’s report was submitted to the sports ministry. However, the Ministry did not make the report public. Brij Bhushan ineligible to contest WFI president post in May 7 elections due to four-year cooling off period after 12 consecutive years as top-post holder, but could take up WFI official role.
Wrestlers, including Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Malik, returned to the protest site on demanding the findings of the Oversight Committee be made public and an FIR be registered against Singh based on a sexual harassment complaint filed by seven female wrestlers, including a minor. The wrestlers said that no FIR has been filed yet.
Podium से फुटपाथ तक।
आधी रात खुले आसमान के नीचे न्याय की आस में। pic.twitter.com/rgaVTM5WGK
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) April 23, 2023
Wrestlers sleep at protest site. IOA takes charge of WFI affairs, voids elections and dissolves Oversight Committee as per Sports Ministry’s letter. PT Usha confirms IOA’s Executive Council meeting on April 27 to decide on further actions.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition by wrestlers who sought registration of an FIR against Brij Bhushan for allegedly sexually harassing women wrestlers. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud directed the case to be listed after sending notice to relevant authorities. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal mentions the case and stated that no FIR has been lodged despite allegations of sexual harassment, and that the victims, including a minor whose names had been redacted from judicial records.
The IOA created a 3-member ad-hoc committee to manage the WFI’s operations and hold elections within 45 days. The committee members include Suma Shirur, Bhupendra Singh Bajwa, and a retired High Court judge. PT Usha criticized the wrestler’s protests, saying it was harmful to the sport.
The Supreme court directed the Delhi Police Commissioner to register an FIR against Singh, terming the allegations as “serious” and provide adequate security to one of them who is a minor. The wrestlers continued their protest until Singh was sent behind bars.
IOA president PT Usha met with protesting wrestlers at Jantar Mantar. After the Executive Committee meeting of the IOA, Wushu Association of India president Bhupendra Singh Bajwa, former shooter Suma Shirur, and a retired High Court judge were nominated to run the wrestling body and conduct elections.
The Supreme Court closed proceedings on the wrestlers’ petition accusing Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual harassment. The Court noted that FIRs have been filed against Singh and the complainants have been provided adequate security.
Khap Panchayats and protesting wrestlers jointly issued a 10-day ultimatum to the Central government, demanding immediate action against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The wrestlers led the protest while receiving support from the around 250 khaps from Haryana, Rajasthan, and western Uttar Pradesh, along with hundreds of farmers’ unions.
Wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat returned to training following their two-week-long sit-in protest against the WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
The wrestlers insisted on conducting a narco test for the former WFI. In a retort, Singh expressed his willingness to undergo the test if the wrestlers agreed to do the same. In response, the wrestlers set a condition for their participation. The wrestlers stated that they would only agree if the narco test was conducted live and telecasted.
May 23 – One Month of the Ongoing Protest
In a display of solidarity with the protesting wrestlers, numerous athletes, farmer leaders, students, and locals gathered for a candle march from Jantar Mantar to India Gate in the evening marking one month of ongoing protests.
May 28 – Wrestlers Dragged & Detained
Chaos erupted in the heart of the capital on Sunday as Delhi Police detained top wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, and Sangeeta Phogat, less than two kilometers away from the grand inauguration of the country’s new parliament building. Disturbing scenes unfolded as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games medal-winning champions were forcefully shoved, pushed, and dragged into buses, sparking widespread outrage.
Protesting wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia, accompanied by a multitude of supporters, had made their way to Har ki Pauri. The wrestlers decided to immerse their hard-earned medals in the holy waters of the Ganga river to mark their protest. However, farmer leader Naresh Tikait intervened and convinced the wrestlers not to immerse their medals. Tikait asked the wrestlers to wait for five days, promising a Khap meeting to address the matter.
The scandal brought to light the issue of sexual harassment in Indian wrestling and the need to create a safe and secure environment for female athletes. The incident also highlights the importance of having proper mechanisms in place to address complaints of sexual harassment and to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes.