“Even if a single allegation is proved against me, I will hang myself,” these were the words uttered by sexual harassment and POCSO accused Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP, after six adult women wrestlers and one minor wrestler came out with their accusations against him. But, now it has come to notice that even Prime Minister of India knew about the sexual harassment that women wrestlers were facing at the hands of Singh and his aides, and yet no attempt was made to remove Singh from his position.
As has been reported by the News Minute, it has been provided in the FIR filed by the women wrestlers that the complainant had met the Prime Minister in the year 2021 and informed him about the sexual harassment. She has further claimed that Narendra Modi had assured her that her “grievances” will be looked into by the Sports Ministry.
According to the FIR, the wrestler said, “I informed the Prime Minister about the repeated sexual, emotional, psychological, and physical trauma that was meted out to me and other female wrestlers by accused no. 1 [Brij Bhushan] in conspiracy with his close aides, to which the Prime Minister reassured me that such grievances will be looked into by the Sports Ministry and I will get a call from the Sports Ministry shortly.”
The complainant said that after her meeting with the PM, a show cause notice issued to her earlier was withdrawn, and Brij Bhushan and aides stopped exerting pressure on her for sometime, as was reported by the News Minute. However, she adds that the mental harassment resumed after a short interval. It is crucial to note here that there has been no mention made here that any attempt was made by the PM to remove Singh from his position of power even after knowing about the abuse. It is also pertinent to note that the Prime Minister has not yet issued anystatement regarding the sexual harassment allegations against Brij Bhushan, and had rather invited the accused to the inauguration ceremony of the new parliament building.
PM Modi once famously said, “Progress of women always gives strength to the empowerment of the nation,” and yet he falls truly short on implementing his words and protecting the women facing sexual harassment at the hands of a predator from his own party.
Even after all this, many other dramatic statements have been made by Singh, who has been time and again denying the allegations against him, calling it a political conspiracy. And now, the details of the key allegations put on him in the two official complaints filed with New Delhi’s Connaught Place police station on April 28 have come out, and they are disturbing and traumatising to say the least.
It is pertinent to note that both the FIRs cite IPC Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354D (stalking) and 34 (common intention) that carry a jail term of one to three years. The first FIR covers the allegations of six adult wrestlers and also names WFI secretary Vinod Tomar. The second FIR is based on the complaint of a minor’s father and also invokes Section 10 of the POCSO Act which entails five to seven years of imprisonment.
The incidents mentioned allegedly took place in India and overseas from 2012 to 2022.
The seven women have put on record multiple incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct that included groping, inappropriate touching and physical contact — during tournaments, at warm-ups and even in the WFI office. At least two instances of demanding “sexual favours” in lieu of professional assistance along with more than 10 episodes of inappropriate touching, molestation that includes running hands over breasts, touching the navel have been made public in a report by the Indian Express. Several instances of intimidation including stalking and a shared sense of fear and trauma also form the key allegations in two FIRs filed.
• “Since the accused (Singh) was always on the lookout to engage in inappropriate talk/gestures…girls, including myself, collectively agreed to not go alone for breakfast, lunch or dinner”.
• “While I was standing in the last row (for team photograph)… the accused (Singh) came and stood alongside me. I suddenly felt a hand on my buttock. I was stunned by the actions of the accused (Singh) while they were highly indecent and objectionable and without my consent… when I tried moving away, I was forcibly held by my shoulder.”
• “On the pretext of getting a picture clicked with me, he pulled me towards him by my shoulder… to protect myself, I tried moving away from the accused (Singh)… Since I was not comfortable with the behaviour of the accused of forcing me, I, in order to escape, (his) clutches, repeatedly resisted his attempts and tried to push him away to which he (threatened): “Zyada smart bann rahi hai kya…aage koi competition nahi khelne kya tune?” (Acting too smart? You don’t want to be considered for tournaments in the future?)
(The above mentioned details of the FIR are based on the copy of the Indian Express)
FIR 2- Allegations put forth by the minor wrestler
The minor’s complaint, filed by her father, alleges that his daughter was “completely disturbed and cannot be at peace anymore …sexual harassment by the accused (Singh) continues to haunt her”. The father also alleged that Brij Bhushanforcefully pulled his daughter towards him and molested her. Brij Bhushan then allegedly told her: “Tu merko support kar, mei terko support karunga, mere saath touch mein rehna” (If you support me, I will support you. Be in touch with me).
As per the News Minute, the father of the minor complainant also mentions that when his daughter refused Brij Bhushan’s advances, he allegedly threatened to stifle her chances at the upcoming trials for the Asian Championship, which he later did by clubbing her in the same category as other strong contestants at the trials, against the general practice of giving preference to the medal holder in the national championship.
The complainant further details how Brij Bhushan called his daughter to his room and tried to initiate “forceful physical contact”, from where she ran, shell-shocked.
The minor athlete alleged that Singh held her tight for a photo. She mentioned that he also pressed her shoulder and purposefully touched her inappropriately. She added that she explicitly told him not to stalk her and that she was not interested in having any physical relationship with him.
• “Holding her tightly, pretending to get a picture clicked, the accused (Singh) squeezed her towards himself, pressed hard on her shoulder and then deliberately…brushed his hands against her breasts”.
• “She clearly told the accused (Singh) she had already told him that she was not interested in having any sort of physical relationship and that he should stop stalking her…”
Based on this complaint, Brij Bhushan has been charged under Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354D (stalking), and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 10 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). The said Section 10 of the POCSO Act would lead to five to seven years of imprisonment. The minor athlete stated that the harassment took place between 2012 and 2022 in both India and abroad. Following this FIR, Brij Bhushanhad claimed that the POCSO Act is being misused and said he wants it amended.
A decade long pattern of abuse
These women have endured years of trauma, of living in fear and having their autonomy and dignity snatched away, of having no respite from the preying hands of men in power. From being sexually assaulted during training to having a man slide his hand inside their t-shirt under the guise of “checking her breath” to having their body touched without their consent while posing for a photograph, the complainants’ accounts demonstrate the level of authority Singh purportedly possessed and exercised in the federation, establishing this pattern to his sexual harassment while enjoying impunity. It is evident from the narratives presented above that time and again Singh used his clout to prey on the survivors, touching them on various pretexts, and isolating them whenever possible to elicit sexual favours. Today, these women are fighting on their behalf, as well as on the behalf of those women who are forced into silence about their stories, against a man who wields such power that even the Prime Minister is silent. From what should have been an act of justice, putting a guilty man behind bars, has become a struggle in which they are being manhandled, dragged, abused, and booked for disrupting the law and order of India!
Who and what are these women battling? On the face of it, they are fighting against a man guilty of committing non-consensual acts on their bodies. But they are also battling an invisible and rigid structure of impunity and abuse of power where a string of powerful men are standing behind one guilty man.