Sunday, 24 September 2023

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Police charge India wrestling chief with sexual harassment

NEW DELHI, INDIA — Indian police said Thursday they had charged the country’s wrestling federation president with sexual harassment and stalking, following a protest by the sport’s top figures demanding his arrest.In April, a group of wrestlers began a sit-in in the capital New Delhi to demand the arrest of Brij Bhushan Singh, who is also a lawmaker for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Singh was accused by Olympic medallists and other Indian wrestling champions of groping female athletes and demanding sexual favours.

Delhi Police said in a statement that “after completion of investigation” they charged Singh with sexual harassment and stalking under the Indian Penal Code.

Vinod Tomar, a Singh acolyte who served as assistant secretary for the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), faced the same charges as well as criminal intimidation and abetment.

But police said one of the accusations against Singh lodged by a minor had been withdrawn.

Public prosecutor Atul Shrivastava confirmed that the charges had been filed.

The wrestlers could not immediately be reached for comment.

Singh, serving his sixth term as a lawmaker from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, has headed the wrestling federation for over a decade.

He has denied the allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation, and claimed to be the victim of a “conspiracy” to force him out of parliament.

The weeks-long demonstration by India’s top wrestlers, including two-time world champion medallist Vinesh Phogat and Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, attracted a groundswell of public sympathy.

They grew in size from a few dozen to crowds sometimes of thousands.

Olympic gold medallists, including javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, lent their support to their fellow athletes.

In May, the protesters attempted to march to India’s new parliament just as it was being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but were dragged away and detained by police officers.

At one point, Malik and Phogat had threatened to throw their international medals into the Ganges River unless police took action.

Authorities opened an investigation into the accusations against Singh after being asked by the Supreme Court to account for the slow pace of progress.

The wrestlers decided to pause the sit-in after the government promised to investigate the sexual harassment claims, giving itself a Thursday deadline to respond to the protesters’ demands.

It also promised to stage new elections for the WFI and prohibit Singh or members of his family from contesting.


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