NEW DELHI: Indian police on Thursday charged the country’s wrestling federation president with sexual harassment and stalking, following months of protests by the sport’s top figures demanding his arrest. Brij Bhushan Singh, who is also a lawmaker for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused by Olympic medalists and other Indian wrestling champions of groping women athletes and demanding sexual favors.
Some of India’s top athletes supported a weeks-long sit-in in the capital New Delhi, where they called for the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president to be arrested. Delhi Police said in a statement that “after completion of investigation” they charged Singh with sexual harassment and stalking under the Indian Penal Code. Public prosecutor Atul Shrivastava confirmed the charges had been filed.
Vinod Tomar, a Singh acolyte who served as WFI assistant secretary, faced the same charges as well as criminal intimidation and abetment. Singh, 66, is serving his sixth term as a lawmaker from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and has headed the wrestling federation for over a decade. He has been accused of inappropriately groping and propositioning seven wrestlers on several occasions. He has denied the allegations and claims to be the victim of a “conspiracy” to force him out of parliament. The most serious charge carries a potential prison sentence of up to five years.
Police said one of the accusations against him — lodged by a minor — had been withdrawn. Singh was bunkered down at home in a leafy New Delhi neighborhood on Thursday afternoon with a large police contingent placing barricades around his compound and restricting traffic into the area. There was no indication of whether he would be taken into police custody. The wrestlers at the center of the protest could not immediately be reached for comment. Demonstrations by India’s top wrestlers, including two-time world champion medalist Vinesh Phogat and Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik, attracted a groundswell of public sympathy.
They grew in size from a few dozen to crowds sometimes of thousands. Olympic gold medalists, including javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, lent support to their fellow athletes. In May, the protesters attempted to march to India’s new parliament just as it was being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but were dragged away and detained by police.
At one point, Malik and Phogat had threatened to throw their international medals into the Ganges River unless police took action. Authorities opened an investigation into the accusations against Singh after being asked by the Supreme Court to account for the slow pace of progress. The wrestlers decided to pause the sit-in after the government promised to investigate the sexual harassment claims, giving itself a Thursday deadline to respond to the protesters’ demands. It also promised to stage new elections for the WFI and prohibit Singh or members of his family from contesting. – AFP