Indian Olympians Persist in Demanding Arrest of Wrestling Chief
A group of India’s most accomplished wrestlers, who have accused the sport’s top official in the country of serial harassment and abuse of female wrestlers, vowed on Friday to continue a day-and-night protest after a clash two days before with the Delhi police.
The protesting wrestlers, among them two Olympic medalists and a world champion, have demanded the resignation and arrest of the federation’s president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. They say that Mr. Singh, 66, harassed at least seven young women, one of whom was a minor, over the course of a decade, starting in 2012. He has called the accusations “baseless.”
The government announced a committee in January to investigate the claims, but months of inaction have followed — a reflection, protesters say, of Mr. Singh’s political connections as a member of Parliament from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P.
When the wrestlers went public with their allegations early this year, they drew immediate media attention. The family of one of them, Vinesh Phogat, a world champion, had been featured in “Dangal,” the top-grossing film in Indian history. Ms. Phogat and the two Olympic medalists — Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik — leveled the accusations against Mr. Singh on behalf of the seven wrestlers who had reported being harassed.
While details of the allegations, and the women’s identities, have been kept private in accordance with Indian law, India’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that the case involves “serious allegations of sexual harassment.”
“This is a matter of honor for sportswomen,” Ms. Malik said. “We bring medals at international levels. If we are not safe in this country, then what can we think about the future of other girls?”
The Delhi police, who have been known in recent years to act quickly in many cases, sometimes on the basis of a single tweet, have taken a different approach to the wrestlers’ case. Only after lawyers representing the wrestlers petitioned the Supreme Court did the Delhi police lodge an official report. The Delhi force is overseen by the country’s home minister, Amit Shah, a top B.J.P. official.
After the government announced the investigative committee, the protesters withdrew in January from their vigil in the center of the capital. But they returned on April 23, furious at the lack of action. The protest has grown to include advocates for women’s rights, and members of opposition parties have taken up the wrestlers’ cause.
Anurag Thakur, the sports minister and a prominent B.J.P. leader, said on Friday that the wrestlers’ demands were being met and that they should allow the investigation to be completed.
The B.J.P.’s top leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been silent on the case, as has Mr. Shah. On Sunday, Mr. Modi celebrated the 100th episode of his radio program, “Mann Ki Baat,” which translates loosely as “words from the heart,” in part by reminding the nation of his work on empowering India’s women and girls.
Ms. Malik, the Olympian, called on Mr. Modi to hold Mr. Singh accountable. Mr. Modi “invites us to his home when we win medals and gives us a lot of respect and calls us his daughters,” she said. “Today, we appeal to him that he listens to our ‘mann ki baat.’”
A week later, the Delhi police clashed with the protesters, as the vigil site erupted into shoving and screams. The protesters said they were attacked by the police as they tried to bring cots into the site. The police denied assaulting the demonstrators.
After the clash, the wrestlers threatened to return their medals in protest. The demonstrators have strung up banners that list the dozens of medals that the young athletes have won for India, comparing them to the 38 criminal charges that have been lodged over the years against Mr. Singh, a strongman politician from the state of Uttar Pradesh. (Only four charges remain on the books.)