Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur on Thursday met top Indian wrestlers who have accused the chief of the sport’s governing body and its coaches of sexually harassing female players.
Several athletes, including Olympic bronze medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia and Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Vinesh Phogat, started a sit-in protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Wednesday.
The meeting with the sports minister on Thursday remained inconclusive as the wrestlers threatened to step up the protest if their demands of disbanding the Wrestling Federation of India and an investigation against the body’s chief, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, are not met, PTI reported.
Singh, who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj, has denied the allegations against him. But the athletes have insisted that they know at least 10-12 women who have been sexually harassed by Singh.
On Thursday night, the protesting wrestlers led by Phogat and Punia met Thakur at his home and sought speedy action. The sports minister told them to wait for an official response to the allegations from the Wrestling Federation of India that his ministry has sought, NDTV reported.
Addressing reporters before the meeting, Thakur said: “Government has worked for the welfare and upliftment of sports and players. India has won a lot of medals and delivered good performances at the global level. Work has been done to make federations better. Allegations levelled by wrestlers are serious in nature.”
Earlier on Thursday, the athletes also met Director General of the Sports Authority of India Sandip Pradhan and Sports Secretary Sujata Chaturvedi.
The wrestlers said they have not received any concrete response and “won’t wrestle another day” till their demands are met, NDTV reported. “We will not quit till the federation chief is removed, and he goes to jail,” they added. “If the government does not act, we will go to the police.”
The protestors also received support from wrestler and BJP leader Babita Phogat, who met them on Thursday. Phogat said that she had heard of instances of abuse in her career as a wrestler as well. “There is no smoke without fire,” she added. “These voices are important.”
Vinesh Phogat said the wrestlers were fighting for their self-respect and urged everyone not to force the athletes who were sexually harassed to reveal their identities, Sportstar reported.
“We don’t want to come forward and say this is what happened to us,” she said. “If we are forced it will be a shame that India’s daughters have to come forward with proof in front of the media that this is what happened to us. We hope we will not see this black day.”
The recent accusations against Singh come weeks after a senior woman athletics coach had accused Haryana Sports Minister Sandeep Singh of sexual harassment. On January 1, the Chandigarh Police had booked Singh, who is also the BJP MLA from Pehowa in Kurukshetra.