Wrestlers’ sexual abuse row: Women scribes want all sporting bodies audited
Mumbai: Standing in solidarity with the women wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment, the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), a not-for-profit organisation comprising over 650 media women based in almost all Indian states, today demanded a national and state-wide audit of all sporting bodies with reference to their good governance practices, particularly around anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying.
“The mechanisms currently in place are not independent and do not serve to deliver justice,” the NWMI stated. It claimed that it has spoken out against sexual harassment at the workplace – be it in the news media, the film industry or elsewhere – and is acutely aware of the immense courage it takes for those directly affected to speak out.
It may be mentioned that some of the most-celebrated wrestling champions, Sangeeta Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik are protesting against sexual harassment, abuse and bullying of their athletic community as well as maladministration by the head of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament, and his cohort.
“The POCSO [The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012] charge against the head of the WFI should shake everyone invested in Indian sport and provide momentum to examine how many of all our national federations offer safe spaces for their athletes, with correctly-constituted internal complaints committees,” the NWMI stated today. It noted that young athletes, both male and female, begin their careers at the age of 12 or 13 and are dependent for their progress on senior authority figures, be it coaches, federation or ministry officials.
As in the case of the wrestlers, the NWMI said, the victim-survivors of the sexual harassment here, who have been protesting on the roadside at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi first in January and more recently in April 2023, find themselves in the dock rather than the head of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), who, as a sitting MP from the ruling party, is an influential political figure. The NWMI stressed that what was “particularly disturbing” since the women wrestlers first began their protest in January this year, was the establishment’s “blanket response and censure of these athletes, the silence of those in government who are usually the quickest to share and even flaunt their success, coupled with the lack of any independent grievance redressal mechanism for India’s athletes”.
The NWMI also found it “highly objectionable” that the protesting athletes were first distanced and then censured by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the country’s highest sporting organisation given the task to promote and protect Olympic ideals inside a sporting ecosystem.
“Reports that the newly-appointed IOA Athletes Commission was prevented from making a formal statement of support and sympathy to the wrestlers, is to render its very purpose meaningless,” it stated, adding that every Athletes Commission is meant to speak on behalf of the athletes.
“If these wrestlers’ serious allegations have been a test case to prove the integrity of the IOA AC, it is safe to say it has failed and needs to be reconstituted,” it said.
“At their prime, India’s athletes bring the country happiness, pride and joy. Yet as is in the case of our wrestlers, it is also necessary for the country’s institutional structures and its sporting establishment to support them when their rights and bodily agency have been violated,” it stated.
It was only after sustained pressure from the wrestlers, the public, the media and an intervention by the Supreme Court of India did the Delhi police register an FIR against the WFI chief. “This move should not take the wrestlers’ protest and their case against the WFI head off the news cycle,” the WFMI said.
Already the Opposition political parties are lining up to support the cause of the protesting wrestlers. Today the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) in Tamil Nadu came out in their support. Former Indian Cricketer and Congress Party leader Navjot Singh Sidhu also met them at Jantar Mantar today. Earlier, on Saturday, April 29, 2023, the Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and All India Congress Committee General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra too had called on them and accused the Central government of protecting Singh. Priyanka demanded that the copy of the FIR against Singh be shared with the wrestlers as they did not know what sections of the Indian Penal Code were applied.
– global bihari bureau