Wrestlers’ Big #MeToo Protest, Government Intervenes

wrestler Vinesh phogat
wrestler Vinesh phogat

Olympic wrestler Babita Phogat met a group of wrestlers on Thursday, nearly 200 of them protesting sexual harassment allegations against the federation chief and several coaches.

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I’m a wrestler first. The BJP government is fighting for wrestlers. I will get action taken right away. As a wrestler and government official, it’s my responsibility to mediate. I’ve heard abuse too, and there’s no smoke without fire. Babita Phogat, a Haryana government member and BJP member, said on the second day of the protest at Jantar Mantar that these voices are important.

After Vinesh Phogat, one of India’s most decorated women wrestlers and Babita Phogat’s cousin, went public with the allegations on Wednesday, the country’s sports ministry asked the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to respond within 72 hours.

The WFI’s president, Brij Bhushan Charan Singh, is a BJP MP. ANI quoted the 66-year-old as saying, “All the sexual harassment allegations are false, and I’ll kill myself if they are confirmed. I tried reaching out to the wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia, but couldn’t.”

Punia, a bronze medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, also joined the protest and accused Singh of being overbearing. It’s the federation’s job to support the players, and take care of their sporting needs,” he tweeted.

In Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, Vinesh Phogat, 28, made the allegations against Mr Singh and trainers. I know at least 10-20 girls who have come to me and told me their stories about being sexually harassed at national camps, she said.

Phogat said she has never faced such exploitation herself, but many wrestlers are intimidated to come forward because of their humble origins. “They’re scared because of their family background. They can’t fight them because they’re powerful. Wrestling is our only livelihood, so might as well make the best of it,” she said.

Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik, who was also part of the protest, backed the allegations. In her tweet, she said, “Athletes work hard to win medals for their country, but the federation has let us down.”

The Delhi Commission for Women, a local group that looks after women’s issues, sent a notice to the sports ministry and asked the city police to file a complaint. At the Jantar Mantar, Swati Maliwal met the protesting wrestlers.

A month ago, the country’s national cycling coach was sacked for sexual harassment.

After a Bollywood actress accused a senior actor of sexual harassment, India’s #MeToo movement gained momentum. Several women from other backgrounds came forward with allegations, including one against a former government minister, but activists say not much has changed.

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