Indian wrestlers have decided to temporarily halt their planned protest following assurances from Sports Minister Anurag Thakur that the investigation into sexual assault allegations against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief will be concluded promptly. Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia, and Asian Games medallist Vinesh Phogat have been at the forefront of the protests, demanding action against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also a member of parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Singh has denied the allegations, which involve sexually assaulting seven female athletes, including a minor.
Malik informed reporters that they had been told the police investigation would be completed by June 15, and they have agreed to suspend the protest until then. Punia added that if no action is taken by June 15, they will continue their protest. Thakur, also a member of Modi’s party, confirmed that the police would file a charge sheet by June 15 and that the wrestlers had assured him they would not hold any demonstrations until that date.
On May 28, the wrestlers were charged with rioting and disorder by police after being briefly detained during a march to the country’s new parliament building. Following their meeting with Thakur, the wrestlers stated that they had been reassured that the charges against them would be dropped and the criminal complaint withdrawn.
Prominent athletes, including India’s Tokyo Olympics gold-medal-winning javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and former Olympic sport shooter Abhinav Bindra, have criticised the government’s handling of the scandal and the treatment of the protesting wrestlers. Last week, United World Wrestling (UWW), the sport’s global governing body, called on Indian authorities to ensure a “thorough and impartial investigation” into the allegations against Singh and warned that it could suspend WFI if it failed to hold elections within a 45-day deadline.
Vinesh Phogat has previously claimed that several sexual harassment cases have been reported in the past, accusing Singh of either making the charges disappear or ensuring the complainant did not compete again. The protesting wrestlers have not disclosed the names of the women who have filed complaints.
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