Wrestlers vs WFI: Timeline of protest from pavement sit-in to court petition

Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and other wrestlers during a press conference regarding their protest against the Wrestling Federation of India at Jantar Mantar. Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

From their first protest on January 18 at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar to their return to the same venue three months later, India's wrestlers continue their fight against the Wrestling Federation of India and its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

Here's a complete timeline of events, from the wrestlers protesting and sleeping on the sidewalk to knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court:

January 18

India's top-most wrestlers - Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik - took to New Delhi's Jantar Mantar to protest against the WFI and its chief. In a series of serious accusations, the wrestlers accused WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and unnamed coaches of sexual abuse of women athletes and also issuing death threats. Brij Bhushan denied all the allegations.

The Sports Ministry sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within 72 hours.

January 19

The wrestlers met with the Sports Ministry and were given assurances, but they were not satisfied. "They have just assured us [that they will take action]. We did not get any satisfactory response from their side. We are not happy with that. We want to shut down WFI and all of its state associations. We want a fresh start," said Sakshi.

The wrestlers then had a late-night meeting with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.

January 20

The IOA formed a seven-member committee to probe the allegations of sexual harassment. This came after the wrestlers wrote to IOA president PT Usha, asking for an official probe.

The members included four athletes [Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt, Dola Banerjee and Alaknanda Ashok], Indian Weightlifting Federation of India president Sahdev Yadav and two advocates.

The WFI rejected all the allegations, including that of sexual harassment, against Brij Bhushan. In its reply to the Sports Ministry, it said. "The WFI is managed by an elected body as per its constitution, and therefore, there is no scope for arbitrariness and mismanagement in WFI by any one individual, including the president."

Brij Bhushan, who had called for a press conference in his native Gonda, called it off and said he would comment only after the WFI's AGM on 22 January.

January 21

The wrestlers call off their protests after receiving assurances from the Sports Ministry that their grievances would be addressed and that an Oversight Committee would be formed to conduct a thorough enquiry into the wrestlers' allegations. The Oversight Committee was given a four-week deadline. Furthermore, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur said the WFI president would step aside for four weeks, until the Oversight Committee submitted its findings.

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January 22

Brij Bhushan does not face the media as the WFI AGM is called off after the formation of the Oversight Committee, which took over the day to day affairs of the Federation.

January 23

The Oversight Committee is formed with Mary Kom as the head. The five-member committee was set up to probe all the charges made by the wrestlers and was also responsible to run the day-to-day affairs of WFI for four weeks.

The other members of the panel included former wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, former badminton player Trupti Murgunde, ex-TOPS CEO Rajesh Rajagopalan and Radhika Sreeman former SAI executive director (teams).

January 24

The protesting wrestlers took to Twitter to express their disappointment over the fact that the government did not consult them before forming the Oversight Committee.

The wrestlers said they were assured they would be consulted before the five-member panel was formed.

"We were assured that we will be consulted before the formation of the oversight committee. It's really sad that we were not consulted," the wrestlers tweeted and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Sports Minister Thakur.

January 27

The likes of Bajrang and Vinesh withdraw from the Zagreb Open [starting on February 1], the first Ranking Series of the year, saying they were not competition-ready.

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January 31

A week after their complaints over the formation of the Oversight Committee, the Sports Ministry acted by including former wrestler Babita Phogat to the panel.

"Former wrestler Babita Phogat has been added to the panel of the Oversight Committee formed by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to undertake the day-to-day administration of the Wrestling Federation of India," the Ministry said in a statement.

February 06

There were no signs to suggest that the Oversight Committee had made any progress at the half-way mark of its four-week deadline. A top wrestler who was part of the protest said the committee had not shared any updates with them. The wrestlers had also not been told whether the Asian Championships would go ahead.

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February 20

India's top wrestlers, including Bajrang, Vinesh, Ravi and Sakshi chose to skip the year's second Ranking Series event - the Ibrahim-Moustafa tournament from February 23 to 26. This was the second event they opted out of in as many months.

February 23

The Sports Ministry grants the Oversight Committee a two-week extension...while UWW, the global body of wrestling, took away India's hosting rights of the 2023 Asian Wrestling Championships. The event was to be held in New Delhi from March 28 to April 2, but was moved to Astana in Kazakhstan.

The UWW said, "UWW was forced to change the host of the continental championships due to the recent developments in Indian wrestling and a pending inquiry by the Indian sports ministry against the Wrestling Federation of India."

February 26

Vinesh took to Twitter to lash out at an unnamed member of the Oversight Committee, who she alleged had leaked sensitive information to the press. She appealed to Sports Minister Thakur to take action.

March 21

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme approved Bajrang and Vinesh's request for an International training camp. Bajrang was cleared to train in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan for 16 days, while Vinesh got the go-ahead to train at the Olympic Preparation Center in Spala, Poland for 11 days.

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April 08

Talking to ESPN, Vinesh said she chose to skip the foreign tour because she felt it was important for her to be around to track any developments in their complaints against the WFI.

"How could I when so much is going on here? If I went abroad, then it would look like we've given up and I would have been disconnected from the system. We cannot go abroad to train or compete until this fight [against the WFI] ends," she said.

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April 09

The Asian Wrestling Championships begin in Astana, Kazakhstan without Bajrang, Ravi or Vinesh in the Indian team. The trio, India's most-recent wrestling Olympians, did not qualify for the event as they skipped the trials.

April 16

Brij Bhushan says he will not contest the post of WFI president at the elections scheduled for May 7. He was ineligible to contest for the role because as per the Sports Code, he had to serve a four-year cooling off period after manning the top-post for 12 consecutive years. However, he could still take up the role of an official within the WFI. "I have said I will not contest for the president's post, I have not said I will not contest elections," he told PTI.

April 17

The U-17 National Cadet Championships are held in Gonda, an area that is 'ruled' by Brij Bushan. Despite not holding a post in the WFI, Brij Bhushan presided over the event and was seen interacting with the wrestlers as well.

April 23

India's top wrestlers returned to Jantar Mantar to continue their protest against the WFI and Brij Bhushan. The wrestlers accused Brij Bhushan of sexually harassing seven women wrestlers, including a minor, and said they submitted a complaint at Connaught Place Police Station two days ago but the police was yet to file an FIR.

Addressing a press conference, Sakshi said, "We made a complaint at CP Police Station. It has been two days, but no FIR has been registered yet. Seven women complained, which also includes a minor. It makes for a POSCO case, but nothing has been done yet."

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April 24

The Sports Ministry, in a letter to the IOA chief PT Usha, said the WFI's affairs will be handled by an ad-hoc committee appointed by the IOA.. The letter stated that elections that were scheduled for May 7 were declared void and that the Oversight Committee had submitted its report will now cease to exist.

Usha also said the IOA would hold an Executive Council meeting on April 27 to discuss the future course of action.

April 25

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition filed by wrestlers seeking registration of an FIR against Brij Bhushan over allegations of sexual harassment of women wrestlers.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that the allegations raised by the wrestlers were serious and required the court's consideration. It directed that the case be listed on Friday, after notice was sent to relevant authorities.

The case was mentioned by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who said that no FIR has been lodged despite the sexual harassment allegations. He also said that the victims - whose names had been redacted from the judicial records - included a minor.

April 26

The protesting wrestlers stepped up their efforts against official inaction over their complaints by appealing directly to prime minister Narendra Modi and the minister in his cabinet in charge of women's affairs.

In a series of sharply worded and emotional comments, they questioned Modi's silence especially in light of the well-publicised women-centric schemes launched by his government.

"PM Modi sir talks about 'Beti Bachao' and 'BetiPadhao', and listens to everyone's 'Mann Ki Baat'. Can't he listen to our 'mann ki baat'?", Sakshi asked in a media interaction with PTI. "He invites us to his home when we win medals and gives us a lot of respect and calls us his daughters. Today, we appeal to him that he listens to our 'Mann Ki Baat'."

April 27

The IOA formed a three-member ad-hoc committee to handle the day-to-day affairs of the WFI and conduct its elections within the next 45 days. The committee members are Suma Shirur, Bhupendra Singh Bajwa and a retired High Court judge, who will be named in the coming days. PT Usha also condemns the wrestler's protests, claiming it was 'not good for the sport'.

April 28

The Delhi Police registered two FIRs against Brij Bhushan. According to a statement from Pranav Tayal, Deputy Commissioner of Police, the first FIR was pertaining to allegations levelled by a minor victim which is registered under POCSO Act along with relevant IPC sections. The second FIR was registered based on other complainants under relevant sections pertaining to outraging of modesty.

May 2

Vinesh went on record saying that complaints related to sexual harassment have been hushed up in the past by the WFI and that Sports Minister Anurag Thakur did the same by forming an oversight panel instead of taking concrete action. She 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.

May 3

Days after criticising them for their "indiscipline", Indian Olympic Association president PT Usha met the protesting wrestlers at the Jantar Mantar offering help and support. When asked about the nature of Usha's visit, Bajrang said, "She told us that 'I'm standing with you, and I will help you get justice'. She assured us that she will do everything she can to help us."

May 3

A scuffle broke out at Jantar Mantar between the protesting wrestlers and Delhi Police. In a press conference post the incident, Vinesh and Bajrang spoke about how two of their fellow protesters had been injured and one had to be taken to hospital with a bleeding head. According to the wrestlers, the scuffle started when they were trying to get in foldable cots to sleep on in their protest site - since their mattresses had been soaked in the day's rain. They said that the Delhi Police had objected to this before starting to push and abuse them including the women wrestlers.

May 8

Members of several farmer unions and khap panchayats warned that they would launch a protest if Brij Bhushan is not arrested by May 21. They visited Jantar Mantar to show their support for the wrestlers.

May 10

Sakshi Malik challenged Brij Bhushan to undergo lie detector Narco Test if he is confident of his innocence after wrestlers levelled sexual harassment allegations against him. The wrestlers also wore black armbands to protest the "slow pace of investigation".

May 12

The Delhi Police told a city court that a Special Investigation Team has been formed to conduct inquiry into the sexual harassment case.

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to the sports ministry, the Wrestling Federation of India, the Sports Authority of India and several other sports bodies for failing to adhere to the requirements stated by the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act.

May 13

The IOA-appointed ad hoc panel, which was formed to run the WFI, formally took charge of the federation. The IOA asked VN Prasood, secretary general of WFI, to hand over the official documents including financial instruments to its ad hoc panel, making it clear the outgoing office bearers shall have no role in the running of the federation.

May 22

Brij Bhushan told the media that he was ready to be put through a lie-detector narco analysis test, however, he wanted Bajrang and Vinesh to also take the test. "If both the wrestlers are ready for their tests, they should call the media and make that announcement," he wrote on Facebook. "And I promise to them that I am also ready for it."

May 23

Bajrang responded to Brij Bhushan's demand and said that he and Vinesh were ready to undergo a lie-detector narco analysis test. Bajrang said that not only he and Vinesh but all women who have filed complaints against Brij Bhushan were ready to undergo the narco test.

May 26

Tokyo Olympics gold medallist and three-time world champion wrestler Risako Kawai of Japan had come out in support of the protesting Indian wrestlers. "I hope it will be an environment where Indian athletes can practice with peace of mind," Kawai wrote, retweeting a BBC News video on the wrestlers' protest. Kawai, who won the 57kg women's freestyle gold in Tokyo, became the first high-profile international wrestler to come out in support of the protesting wrestlers.

May 28

The Delhi Police detained the protesting wrestlers and their supporters as they attempted to march for 'Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat' around the same time as the inauguration of the new Parliament building. Sakshi, Bajrang, Vinesh and others were forcefully lifted from the protest site into police vans as officials sought to implement a security lockdown in the national capital. Later in the day, the Delhi Police filed a FIR against all the wrestlers and their supporters for violation of law.

May 30

Bajrang, Vinesh and Sakshi announced that they will throw their Olympic, World Championship and other medals into the Ganga river in Haridwar on Tuesday evening and go on a fast unto death at the India Gate.

Later that day, they returned from Haridwar after being convinced not to immerse their medals with intervention from leaders of the farmers union (BKU) and khap panchayats who sought five days to address their grievances.

June 7

Sports minister Anurag Thakur meets the protesting wrestlers and gives June 15 as the deadline for completing investigation and filing the chargesheet against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. That was one of the five demands made by the wrestlers, all conceded to by the minister. The wrestlers agree to pause their protest till then.

This was the first meeting between the protesting wrestlers and Thakur since January, when the wrestlers had initially called off their protest.

June 12

The Indian Olympic Association appoints former Jammu and Kashmir High Court Chief Justice Mahesh Mittal Kumar as the returning officer to conduct the pending Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) elections on July 4.

At present, there is confusion over the actual election date after a number of issues with all state federations.

June 15

The promised chargesheet is filed. Delhi Police charge Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh with various sexual offences including assault, sexual harassment and stalking. Vinod Tomar, the former federation secretary, is also charged with assault and sexual harassment and also abetment and intimidation.

However, the police seek for the cancellation of the POCSO case involving the minor complainant "based upon statements of the complainant i.e., the father of the victim and the victim herself".

June 25

The wrestlers call an end to the sit-in protest, saying that their fight will now continue in the court and not on roads. Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia post identical tweets saying the government has fulfilled its promise of filing a chargesheet against Singh by the given date. Vinesh and Sakshi also say that they are taking a brief break from social media.

Earlier in the day, Vinesh posted an undated letter on social media to prove that the six protesting wrestlers did not demand exemption from Asian Games trials and they sought only time till August for preparation. This came after reports that the six protesting wrestlers were handed one-bout trials by the IOA ad-hoc panel, a move that was criticised by several others wrestlers as they demanded fair trials for everyone.