Star wrestler Vinesh Phogat on Tuesday alleged that complaints related to sexual harassment have been hushed up in the past by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). She also said that the sports minister did the same this time by forming an oversight panel instead of taking concrete action.
Vinesh claimed that twice in the past sexual harassment cases were reported during the national camp but WFI succeeded in sweeping the matter under the carpet. The World Championship medallist said the complainants had shared their ordeal in a meeting with the sports minister, but he did not do anything except for constituting an oversight panel.
The protesting wrestlers had met Anurag Thakur, the current Union minister of youth affairs and sports, at his residence in New Delhi on January 20 this year. They called off their protest a day later after getting assurances from the government that the matter would be probed, and a five-member panel was formed to look into the allegations of sexual harassment against WFI chief Brijbhushan Sharan Singh.
“During the 2012 national camp, a sexual harassment complaint was lodged at a police station. Within 24 hours that case was hushed up. In 2014, a physio, who was also the trainer of Geeta Phogat, raised a similar matter and he was removed from the camp within 24 hours. From that day, his wife could not participate in any competition.
“Before we started our protest, three months back, we had explained everything to a government official... how sexual harassment was taking place and how women wrestlers were being tortured mentally. The athletes were being pushed to a stage where they could have done anything with their lives.
“We waited for three-four months but when nothing happened, we came to Jantar Mantar. When we met the sports minister, the women wrestlers shared individual incidents related to sexual harassment. The girls were crying before him, but no action was taken. The sports minister tried to hush up the matter yet again by forming a committee. We have tried to raise this issue at every level but the matter was always suppressed,” said Vinesh.
Om Prakash Karhana, a member of the athletes commission of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), has come out in support of the protesting wrestlers, saying “justice should be delivered to athletes who are fighting for their rights”.
The 36-year-old Karhana, a former national record holder shot putter and Asian champion, said sweeping the allegations of the wrestlers under the carpet would harm Indian sport as athletes will lose their faith in the system.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of the athletes commission, but my personal view is that if athletes have come out in the open to fight for their rights, the system in the country should take steps to deliver justice to them as soon as possible,” Karhana, who retired last year, said.
Several non-protesting wrestlers have demanded that SAI must reopen its centres for grapplers since the lack of training is having an adverse impact on their preparations for the Asian Games. The national camp was closed on April 8.
“I don’t have proper sparring partners with me to train. We need to be in the national camp. The SAI should restart the camp?” wrestler Narsingh Pancham Yadav, a national medallist, said.
Written with inputs from PTI