Wrestlers' protest: Vinesh Phogat alleges Sports Minister, WFI hushed up sexual harassment complaints

Wrestlers Bajrang Punia (L), Vinesh Phogat (C), Sakshi Malik (R) and others during their protest against Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh at Jantar Mantar. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Vinesh Phogat has alleged that complaints related to sexual harassment have been hushed up in the past by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and that Sports Minister Anurag Thakur did the same by forming an oversight panel instead of taking concrete action.

Vinesh, the biggest face of the wrestlers' protest, claimed that sexual harassment cases were reported twice in the past during the national camp, but the 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 wrestlers had called off their protest in January 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 Brij Bhushan 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 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," Vinesh said.

"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," she added.

She continued, "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 at that time."

"Sports Minister tried to hush up 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.

The Asian Games gold medallist also opined that people could now understand why they were silent for 12 years. "We had to play sport. Our career, life was at stake and that's why we could not muster enough courage. Now we have reached a stage in our careers where we could speak. It's not easy to stand against a powerful man," she said.

Sakshi Malik said the motive behind the protest, as being projected, was not to seek exemptions from trials. She claimed she was asked to appear in a trial abroad when she had already won a trial in India. Another girl, in 2012, was asked to reappear in a trial within 24 hours of winning.

"She was vomiting during the retrial bouts. I had told her that we do not have status to fight with these men," added Vinesh.

Vinesh also alleged that the Delhi Police was not doing its job properly.

"The Delhi Police has not yet recorded any statement. They are helping in breaking the victims, using power and position. Delhi Police is trying to delay the matter. They are giving information to Brij Bhushan. Maybe we will get justice only from the Supreme Court."

"The kind of language he (WFI chief) is using on national television gives an indication how he can behave with women in a closed room. If he wants a fair probe, he should himself go to the police station, get himself arrested and co-operate with police in probe. After that if nothing comes out, we should be held guilty," said Vinesh, who added that she has not met Brij Bhushan in the last two years.

Bajrang Punia also claimed that they have support of many wrestlers, but they do not want to disturb their training, and that is why not many are at the protest site.