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Vulnerable, minors being pressured to change sexual harassment charge: Women groups

Counterview Desk 

In a collective statement, over a dozen women and human rights organisations, condemning “the state repression and police atrocities” on the wrestlers in their struggle for justice against sexual harassment, have demanded end the culture of impunity and arrest of accused Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh immediately.
Regretting that India has “no witness protection programme”, the statement says that under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), once an offence has been committed, especially after a statement in front of a magistrate, “an arrest is imperative.”
However, it regrets, “Since the primary witnesses are minors, they are vulnerable to pressure. Despite these factors, the accused Brij Bhushan Singh enjoyed absolute impunity and was not arrested.” As a consequence, five weeks after the FIR was lodged, it on the 2nd of June, “a second statement was given by the minor to the magistrate contradicting her original statement.”

Text:

We the undersigned women and human rights organisations condemn the way the Delhi Police, Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP led Central Government at the highest level have managed to subvert the law, by keeping the erstwhile president of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, out of police custody, despite being an accused of sexual harassment by women wrestlers, including a minor.
It is well known that the powerful and well connected, including members of the legislature and godmen, can manipulate the law through various tactics including intimidating witnesses. In cases of sexual harassment and assault, the complainants are often forced to change their statements. The pressure is so high that the families succumb, and the accused manage to walk away unscathed.
In the case of the wrestlers, the father of the minor had explicitly stated in the Supreme Court that Brij Bhushan Singh was powerful and had requested protection. He feared that there would be intimidation and pressure. The minor, who is the main witness in the FIR 0077/ 2023 filed at police station Connaught Place, u/s 354, 354 (A), 354 (D)/ 34 of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) had also given a statement under oath to a magistrate in May 2023.
In POCSO there is a presumption that the offence has been committed, especially after a statement in front of a magistrate. Therefore, an arrest is imperative. Since the primary witnesses are minors, they are vulnerable to pressure. Despite these factors, the accused Brij Bhushan Singh enjoyed absolute impunity and was not arrested. The consequence of not making an immediate arrest has been that five weeks after the FIR was lodged, it is alleged that on the 2nd of June, a second statement was given by the minor to the magistrate contradicting her original statement.
We are very clear that it is for a court of law to independently monitor the investigation and come to a just conclusion. However, we would like to state that this country has no witness protection programme and once again the criminal justice system has failed our women struggling for justice.
In the meanwhile, the Delhi Police must continue the investigation in a fair and just manner and immediately arrest Brij Bhushan Singh and file strong chargesheets, including the second FIR 0078/ 2023, u/s 354, 354 (A), 354 (D)/ 34, where six women wrestlers are the complainants.
The state is traumatising wrestlers in selection for forthcoming sporting events and the threat related to their jobs in Railways
We demand that action be taken against the Delhi Police for the brutal violence unleashed on the wrestlers on 28 May 2023. The police broke up the protest with excessive force, detained the wrestlers and evicted them from Jantar Mantar. They continue to be named as offenders in FIR number 60/2023, Parliament Street Police Station. We demand its immediate closure.
It is unfortunate that the state, instead of helping the wrestlers who have won many laurels for India, is traumatising them physically and emotionally, including in selection for forthcoming sporting events and the threat related to their jobs in the Indian Railways.
It is a moment of deep anguish that despite the last five decades of jurisprudence to strengthen the law against sexual violence and enable that complainants can fight for justice, the developments in the wrestler’s case shows us how pervasive the culture of impunity is deeply embedded and reinforced by the BJP.
We express our outrage and condemn the support that the accused Brij Bhushan Singh has from the BJP, that he will be allowed to address forthcoming BJP rallies in Kaiserganj and other cities in UP. Such public glorification and legitimacy should be stopped now as it would be disastrous and demotivate women fighting rape and sexual violence all over the country.
The women’s movement and other social movements are prepared to take on the present challenges. We will not step back, instead fight for our rights to be preserved, which must start with the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh before more witnesses are intimidated. The fight for justice and dignity of our wrestlers, is not their fight alone, but a fight to implement the rule of law.

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