Sunday, January 29, 2023

A different kind of wrestling

It was unfortunate that the sports ministry, government of India, has not responded in time, even three days after Indian wrestling champions held a protest at Jantar Mantar New Delhi, demanding that the president of the wrestling federation of India(WFI) Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh resign and probe ordered against him on several cases of sexual harassment and exploitation. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, 66, is a six-time MP of the BJP who was elected unopposed president of WFI for a third consecutive term in February 2019.Each term is for a period of three full years. The champion wrestlers who have brought laurels are now being made to sit in for three days while awaiting the response of the government for justice. The allegations made by Vinesh Phogat, India’s first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both Commonwealth and Asian Games and the only Indian woman wrestler to win multiple medals at the World Wrestling Championships, makes the case against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh most credible. She has alleged that at least ten woman wrestlers confessed to her that they were sexually exploited by WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh and some would be willing to come out openly about being sexually exploited by Sharan. Vinesh also claimed that she along with Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang Punia had even met Union Home Minister Amit Shah to flag their issues about three months back. However the assurance to look into the matter has not resulted in any action. Due to the ongoing protest, the other women athletes have warned they would not compete in international tournaments unless Singh was removed from the post. In a sense, the case is also not only about sexual harassment by a law maker -cum- head of the country’s wrestling federation , but also the fact that a law maker with a record of criminal charges continues to be elected and having total sway over the federation having been re-elected three times consecutively. According to ace wrestlers – including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik – have branded him a ‘predator’ and accused him of ‘sexual assault’ and aiding sexual harassment of female wrestlers. Singh is not new to controversy. He was arrested in themid-1990s under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for allegedly helping associates of gangster Dawood Ibrahim and spent several months in Tihar jail. According to Singh’s election affidavit, he has four pending cases against him. The case also reveals that the electoral system as well as the parliamentary rules of conduct are heavily loaded against truth and justice. The other is about sports federations in India which appear to believe that they cannot function professionally without involvement of politicians. The fact that the powerful MP from UP, in this case Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, had managed to be re-elected three times consecutively, itself a dubious record for a totally different kind of wrestling , which he is now being accused of being a predator. Any government probe at this point will not suffice unless the entire federation is suspended and criminal investigation launched against the alleged accused in securing justice for sporting heroes who, instead of being shown respect are harassed, humiliated and hounded.

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