Wrestlers' protest: Who's said what, who's remained silent in corridors of power

Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and others participate in a candle march during their protest at Jantar Mantar. PTI Photo.

There was a flurry of statements and developments on Thursday around the wrestling case: IOA chief PT Usha spoke, so did sports minister Anurag Thakur and so too did the under-fire federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Very little of what they said addressed the core issue raised by India's top wrestlers: That Singh was the alleged perpetrator in multiple cases of sexual abuse, and that the Delhi police is going slow on their complaint on that specific issue.

The Supreme Court is on Friday scheduled to hear the petition on those grounds, filed by a group of wrestlers (their names have been protected by the court). It seeks the registration of an FIR against Singh, who is also a member of Parliament belonging to ruling party, BJP.

The court's intervention stands out because it's a rare instance of the uppermost levels of Indian officialdom responding to the wrestlers, who have been protesting since January. The overwhelming silence is more remarkable because the issue involves, most importantly, allegations of sexual assault and harassment (there are also allegations of financial maladministration.)

Given the prominence of the case, and the stature of the wrestlers involved (reigning medallists at the Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games) allegations of this nature would normally attract the attention of several governmental and other agencies: ministries, commissions, councils.

Here's how those with a responsibility to hear these wrestlers and their complaints have responded (or not) to their protests from January:

Sports Ministry and Union Minister Anurag Thakur

Thakur first met the protesting wrestlers on 19 January; by then the Sports Ministry had given the WFI response to the allegations, a response that denied all wrongdoing.

Another meeting on January 20 ended with the wrestlers calling off the protests "after receiving the assurance from our Sports Minister".

The Ministry then formed a five-member 'Oversight Committee' to probe the sexual harassment charges and run the day-to-day affairs of WFI for the next one month.

The one-month deadline for the committee to submit its report kept being extended till April, when the preliminary findings were released; they did not address allegations raised by the wrestlers. The ministry said the report was under examination and asked the IOA to form an ad-hoc committee to run WFI.

On Thursday, Thakur spoke for the first time about the renewed protests, saying everyone got a chance to put forward their view and that the oversight committee found that impartial elections were needed.

Indian Olympic Association

The Indian Olympic Association is (in official terms) the "governing body for the Olympic Movement and the Commonwealth Games in India", and administers various aspects of sports governance and athletes' welfare in the country.

It was to the IOA that the wrestlers first submitted an official written complaint back in January, detailing their allegations against the WFI and seeking a new committee to run the WFI in consultation with the wrestlers. The IOA duly formed a seven-member committee to probe the allegations.

On April 27, the IOA announced the ad-hoc committee that the Sports Ministry had asked for.

On the same day, PT Usha, the IOA's first woman president, made her second statement on the issue in more than three months (her first was on January 19). She said that the wrestlers should have shown discipline and the protests were not good for Indian sport. "There are other ways to put your point across. They could have approached the athletes commission. This sets a bad precedent and amounts to indiscipline," she said.

It should be noted that the Athletes Commission is also led by Mary Kom, with Achanta Sharath Kamal as Vice Chairperson. Of all the members of the commission, only Shiva Keshavan has spoken about the protest on his social media.

Smriti Z Irani, Union Minister of Women and Child Development

An allegation of sexual harassment against a sitting MP should ideally be taken up by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Irani, the minister in charge, has been silent on the issue.

On Wednesday, Sakshi Malik addressed her directly: "I want to ask Smriti Irani, why is she silent now? It's been four days that we are sleeping on road, enduring mosquito bites. We are not being allowed (by Delhi Police) to prepare food and train, why are you silent? I just want to say that you come here, listen to us and support us."

Irani, on Wednesday, was seen opening a Mahila Samman Saving Certificate (MSSC) account at Sansad Marg Post Office in Delhi.

National Commission for Women

The NCW has a mandate on this because of the allegations concern sexual assault. When the protests first began in January, the NCW spokesperson said that "complainants can approach the women's panel with their complaints related to this matter". But there hasn't been any proactive move by it.

As this is being written, the NCW is holding a National seminar on Anti Human Trafficking in Srinagar.

Delhi Commission for Women

The Delhi Commission for Women also has a mandate to intervene, since the protests are happening in Delhi. Chairperson Swati Maliwal met the protesting wrestlers in January, taking suo motu cognisance of the issue and issuing notices to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Delhi Police. The DCW had asked for copy of complaints made by women wrestlers and details about WFI's Internal Complaints Committee.

She has also issued a notice to Delhi Police for their inaction in registering the FIR, sharing the letter on Twitter.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

The NCPCR has a mandate because one of the victims is a minor, which also makes this a POCSO case (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012) which is legally mandated to be registered anonymously. However, they have not said anything on the issue since the first protests in January.

United World Wrestling

The world wrestling federation has not taken any direct action against the Indian federation. However, in February they moved the Asian Wrestling Championships, which were to be held in New Delhi this March, to Astana, Kazakhstan citing the ongoing inquiry against WFI.

The only statement they made was that they are watching the development.

"UWW has learned with great concern via the media about these serious allegations. We will closely follow the cases and will take any necessary measures that are warranted by the outcome of the investigations," the world body said in a response to the New Indian Express in January.

The UWW has not responded to several emails sent by ESPN on this issue.

The sporting fraternity

When it comes to their peers, the wrestlers have had minimal support. Only a few top athletes and former athletes have spoken on this or joined them.