Indian wrestlers continue protest over sexual harassment

NEW DELHI (AP) — Top Indian wrestlers continued a sit-in protest near the parliament building for a third straight day Friday as the federation president they accused of sexually and mentally harassing young female athletes remained defiant and refused to quit.

The wrestlers and their nearly 200 supporters at Jantar Mantar carried placards reading “We will fight for our rights,” and “Boycott the WFI president.”

Wrestlers Sakshee Malikkh, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia are scheduled to meet Indian Sports Minister Anurag Singh Thakur for a second time in the past 24 hours to press their demands.

They are seeking the immediate removal of Wrestling Federation of India President Brijbhushan Sharan Singh and some other officials pending an inquiry against them.

Singh, a lawmaker representing the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, rejected the accusations and said he was ready to face any probe.

“Why should I resign?” Singh said.

Indian media reports said the protesting wrestlers have sent a letter to the Indian Olympic Association demanding its intervention.

P. T. Usha, the IOA president, in a tweet promised a complete investigation into their complaint to ensure justice.

“We also have decided to form a special committee to deal with such situations that may arise in the future, for swifter action,” she said.

Usha said she has discussed the wrestlers’ accusations against Singh and some coaches with IOA members and urged athletes to come forward and voice their concerns with the association.

The ministry earlier asked the wrestling body to answer the accusation made by the wrestlers by Friday “otherwise, the ministry will proceed to initiate action against the federation.”

Phogat said she knew of at least 10-20 female wrestlers who were sexually exploited by Singh and others and that she will reveal their names at an appropriate time.

Jagmati Sangwan, a former volleyball player and an activist, said the cases of harassment voiced by women wrestlers were merely the tip of the iceberg.

“The true shape of this particular problem has become quite gigantic,” Sangwan wrote in a newspaper column.

She added that the measures taken so far to hear the complaints of sportswomen “have been absolutely ineffective and have instilled zero confidence in women to come out and report their abuse.”

Phogat won a bronze medal at the world championships last year. Punia won bronze at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and Malikkh a bronze at the 2016 Olympics.

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