As the wrestlers’ protest at Jantar Mantar reached its 10th day, the grapplers were eager to put to rest certain allegations levelled at them by WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The BJP MP from Gonda in Uttar Pradesh has denied the sexual harassment charges against him and has often asked, through media interactions, why the protesters remained silent for this long.
Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik said that it wasn’t the first time that wrestlers have approached law enforcement agencies seeking an FIR against Brij Bhushan. She alleged that in 2012 around half a dozen junior athletes had approached the police in Lucknow to file an FIR against him but it was swept under the carpet due to the BJP strongman’s influence.
“In 2012, a national camp was organised for juniors in Lucknow. An FIR was registered for sexual harassment, but within 24 hours the matter was settled and the FIR vanished. Around 5-7 girls had approached the police back then to register an FIR for sexual harassment,” said Sakshi.
The star wrestler said that it wasn’t a one-off case when Brij Bhushan used his influence to evade the law. “In 2014, you might have heard about a physio (Paramjeet Malik) who was in the national camp and worked with Geeta Phogat. His wife was also a wrestler, who was in the national camp back then. When he had raised his voice against these things and spoke to other coaches about it, the physio and his wrestler wife were removed from the camp in no time and since that day she hasn’t been able to take part in any competition,” she said.
Paramjeet told The Indian Express that in February, he had appeared twice before the oversight committee set up by the sports ministry to probe the allegations against Brij Bhushan — in person first, and then by video call. He said he had narrated the 2014 incident to the panel too.
“I was the personal physio of (World Championship medallist) Geeta Phogat in 2014. The cadet wrestlers broke down and narrated to me and senior wrestlers, including my wife Suman Kundu, about the alleged sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan during the national camp in Lucknow in 2014,” Paramjeet said.
Scared to speak up
These alleged incidents, Sakshi and the other protesting wrestlers said, had made them fearful of Brij Bhushan’s power and influence. Even though they wanted to speak up, they felt, as junior athletes back then, it would have ended their careers prematurely.
“This is the reason why we were quiet for so long. We wanted to wrestle and save our careers because we knew how it would end. We did not dare to raise our voices back then but today we have reached a level where we can speak for our fellow athletes,” Sakshi told the media on Tuesday.
The protesting wrestlers were also deeply anguished by five-time World Champion boxer MC Mary Kom’s silence on the issue. Mary chaired the sports ministry’s oversight committee. “I think they (PT Usha and Mary Kom) have forgotten that it’s because of sports that they are in power today. They were athletes once, now they are politicians,” said Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia.
Last week, IOA president PT Usha, during a press interaction, said that the protesting wrestlers were tarnishing the image of the country. The statement not only drew sharp criticism from various sections but also hurt the wrestlers. For Sakshi, who idolised PT Usha, it was a tough pill to swallow.
“We come from really humble backgrounds and as youngsters, we all had this desire in our hearts to meet legends like PT Usha some day. We saw Sachin Tendulkar on our box TVs with the water coolers running in the background and asked ourselves if we would ever get the opportunity to meet him in person. I would just like to ask Usha Ma’am one question: If being a woman you can’t understand the pain of other women, is your official position of any worth?” asked Sakshi.