Indian police charge lawmaker with sexual harassment of female wrestlers

FILE PHOTO: Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik address a news conference as they take part in a sit-in protest demanding arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players, in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2023. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian police filed charges of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation on Thursday against the chief of the country’s wrestling federation, a powerful member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), following complaints by female wrestlers.

Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastav read out the charges against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a member of parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, at a court hearing in the capital New Delhi.

If convicted he faces up to three years in jail.

In an interview on Wednesday to local media, Singh rejected all allegations against him.

After the reading out of the charges, an aide to Singh said the lawmaker “will continue to cooperate with police and will respect the court’s decision.” The next hearing is slated for later this month.

A police official investigating the case said last week more than 155 people have been questioned in the investigations, which followed months of complaints by the country’s top wrestlers, including several Olympic and Asian Games medallists.

The wrestlers began a sit-in protest against the lack of action in April and were briefly detained by police in New Delhi as they cleared the site the following month.

Images of the athletes being dragged away and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians.

FILE PHOTO: The chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who wrestlers accuse of sexually harassing female players, also a federal lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, waves towards his supporters during a political rally in Colonelgunj, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, June 11, 2023. REUTERS/Saurabh Sharma/File Photo

The wrestlers also threatened to throw their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river – before agreeing to meet Home (Interior) Minister Amit Shah and later the sports minister.

Amid mounting outrage, the wrestlers suspended their protest after Sports Minister Anurag Thakur promised a June 15 deadline to conclude the probe into Singh.

Srivastav told reporters outside the court that there were two police complaints filed in the case.

“We have filed criminal charges in a case filed by six wrestlers but we have sought closure in the other case filed on behalf of a minor alleging sexual harassment,” he said.

The charges by the minor, which could have attracted more severe punishment if proved, were dropped after her father withdrew the allegations, he said.

The case has caused an international furore.

This month, Sport and Rights Alliance, a global coalition of non-governmental organisations that promotes human rights in sports, urged the International Olympic Committee to ensure a transparent, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations.

“It takes a lot of courage to break the silence and disclose a case of sexual abuse,” network coordinator Joanna Maranhao said.



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