Law finally catches up with Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh

Delhi police has finally filed a chargesheet against BJP MP and WFI chief Brij Bhshan Sharan Singh for sexually harassing women wrestlers. Growing global criticism seems to have forced government’s hand as legal proceedings against him are set rolling., writes Mudit Mathur

The Delhi police finally filed a chargesheet against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for sexually harassing, using criminal force to outrage modesty and stalking women wrestlers, under sections 354A, 354 and 354D of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

It has also submitted a report in court under section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC), requesting for cancellation of the case filed against him under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Offences under all these Sections are bailable as it does not provide punishment for more than five years.

Charges have also been filed against WFI assistant secretary, Vinod Tomar for molestation, sexual harassment and criminal intimidation who has been a close aide of Bhushan. Chargesheet cites corroboration of wrestlers’ complaints by colleagues, coaches and others as main evidence as old electronic data of more than a year back is not retrievable. 

The chargesheet contains detailed statements of the six women wrestlers who complained against Bhushan have been corroborated by more than four other wrestlers and coaches, and comes after examination of over 200 witnesses, including, trainers, participants, event organisers and members of the federation.

The signs of climbdown of Modi government appeared during the meeting of wrestlers with Union sports minister, Anurag Thakur who indicated to prosecute its member of parliament and erstwhile Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for the serious allegations of sexual harassment levelled by Medal-winning seven wrestlers including a minor led by celebrity Olympians–Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.

The reconciliation moves to break the deadlock came in wake of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s upcoming official US visit amid harsh diplomatic reactions and growing criticism of international sports bodies, besides adverse reactions witnessed across the country and abroad over the confrontational approach of the government in dealing with the agitating super star women Olympians’ wrestlers, who brought laurels and pride to the Nation.

Thakur, who held a meeting with the protesting wrestlers for six hours on June 7, assured them that the investigation against Singh would conclude and chargesheet would also be filed by June 15. He promised them that a new WFI chief would be elected by June 30. The wrestlers have suspended their protest until June 15, but have warned the government that they would resume their protests if their demands are not met.

The wrestlers had put forth five demands before Thakur. These include free and fair elections to the WFI and the appointment of a woman chief to the body. Singh, who is accused of serious allegations of sexual harassment, or his family members, could not be part of the WFI, the wrestlers demanded. Three top wrestlers, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, have accused Brij Bhushan of running the WFI like a ‘fiefdom’; according to his whims. He acts as the overall president, selection committee chief and also chairs athletes’ grievance panel. Thus, he discharged the role of a judge, jury and executor, the wrestlers charged.

On the eve of the opening of the new parliament, with the wrestlers planning a march to the capital, there were talks held late at night to pressurise the protestors. But the wrestlers did not relent. They took to the streets and were subsequently detained using unwanted force and with cops mercilessly trampling them down under their boots on the road. The pictures of Delhi Police’s high-handedness went viral, the International Olympic Council (IOC) found them disturbing and the global media put them on their front pages.

The IOC spokesperson from Lausanne, Switzerland, said that the “treatment” meted out to the athletes when they were manhandled and detained for hours, was “very disturbing.” The IOC asked for an “unbiased, criminal investigation” into the allegations of sexual harassment and underlined: “We urge that the safety and wellbeing of these athletes is duly considered throughout this process and that this investigation be concluded speedily.”

The United World Wrestling (UWW), the global governing body for wrestling, came out with a strong statement condemning the “treatment and detention of the wrestlers”. “For several months, United World Wrestling has followed with great concern the situation in India where wrestlers are protesting over allegations of abuse and harassment by the President of the WFI,” the statement said. It threatens suspension of WFI from the world wrestling body if elections are not held within a given time of 45 days.

While expressing solidarity with protesting wrestlers, a group of international parliamentarians and academics said, “We, the parliamentarians and academics stand in solidarity with the protesting athletes and demand accountability from the Indian government.” “The Union government’s reaction to the wrestlers’ protest against BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh sends a clear message that rebellious women will be punished, the ruling class will be protected at all costs and dissent will not be tolerated”.

The wrestlers have been on a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar from 23 April that mustered huge support in favour of agitating women wrestlers from all walks of life including farmers’ unions, women organisations, sports bodies and human rights activists. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating the new parliament building on May 28, where Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was present. The Delhi Police on that day detained the protesting wrestlers, dismantled their protest site and filed FIRs against them. Thereafter the police did not allow them permission to return to Jantar Mantar or protest at India Gate.

Since then, their fight for justice reached the farmers-led Khap Panchayats of UP, Haryana and Rajasthan who supported women wrestlers wholeheartedly and consolidated their fight among the masses. Jats are a politically active and united community who dominate four states and 40-45 Lok Sabha seats out of 543 seats. Jats also hold dominance on 160-170 Assembly seats. BJP rose to power in the wake of Jat-Muslim rift after Muzaffarnagar riots but these differences healed up during one year of farmers’ movement against three farm laws which was ultimately repealed by the Modi government after facing much humiliation.

It is believed that farmers’ leader, Rakesh Tikait played a vital role to break the deadlock between wrestlers and government, who managed their meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Shah invited them for a second round of talks on the issues raised by them demanding arrest of WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Demands for sexual favours, at least 10 cases of molestation are detailed in two FIRs registered against him after Supreme Court’s orders.

According to media reports, at least two instances of demanding “sexual favours” in lieu of professional assistance; at least 15 incidents of sexual harassment that include 10 episodes of inappropriate touching, molestation that includes running hands over breasts, touching the navel; several instances of intimidation including stalking — and a shared sense of fear and trauma are the key allegations in two FIRs filed with the Delhi Police on April 28 against WFI chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh.

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 during the period from 2012 to 2022.

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 minor’s allegations include “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…”Subsequently, the minor changed her testimony and recorded a changed statement before the court.

“There’s huge pressure on us to compromise, the minor victim changed her statement under pressure,” said Olympian Sakshi Malik accusing WFI chief Brij Bhushan of getting his men to call and threaten the complainant women wrestlers. “An impartial probe can’t be conducted without Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s arrest,” she added after the farmers’ Mahapanchayat.

The wrestlers have been demanding the arrest and custodial interrogation of the accused since day one as he wields considerable political power to influence and derail the investigation and intimidate the complainants and witnesses. Bajrang Punia and Sakshi briefed the Mahapanchayat sharing details of what transpired in their meeting with Sports minister Anurag Thakur.

On the other hand, Brij Bhushan denied all allegations and maintained that his 12 years tenure as WFI chief are full of achievements and protesting wrestlers have turned hostile as they did not want to participate in selection trials for the Olympics.   Indian wrestling has increased its footprints beyond its traditional fort–Haryana and is consistently among the top five wrestling nations in the world, rising from 20th rank when he took over reins.

Known as “Bahubali”, Brij Bhushan has won six times for Lok Sabha and contributed establishing 54 educational institutions that he owns or is associated with across the Ayodhya-Gonda highway in the adjoining districts–Gonda, Balrampur, Bahraich and Shravasti imparting education to nearly 80,000 students. Besides the colleges, Singh’s empire includes a hotel, a hospital, a shooting range, and a national wrestling academy.

Singh’s palatial house at his ancestral village Vishnoharpur consisting a two-storey structure sprawling in several acres, with manicured gardens, a glamorous gym, a huge parking area lined with a fleet of six SUVs and a Robinson R-66 turbine helicopter that is parked in the backyard which speaks of his invincible political clout he wields on the BJP leadership.