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Terminate sexual predators, suspension not enough: Women's groups tell Sports Ministry

Counterview Desk 

Taking strong exception to the Union Ministry of Sports merely suspending the new executive committee of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) led by Sanjay Singh, and not terminating it in the wake of strong protest by wrestlers for announcing the hosting of nationals in the “fiefdom” of Uttar Pradesh BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, several women’s rights organisations have said the “sexual predators” should be actually terminated.
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is outgoing WFI president, has been in the eye of storm of sexual harassment of female wresters. The new executive committee, now “suspended”, was led by Sanjay Singh, the BJP MP’s business partner.
Stating that the Ministry’s decision is too small and too late, in a signed statement, they said, the announcement came after India’s first Olympic medal winner in women’s wrestling Sakshi Mallik declared her formal withdrawal from the sport, followed by Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia returning the Padmashri award”, Vinesh Phogat returning the Khel Ratna, and Deaflympics gold medallist Virendra Singh Yadava calling upon all sportspersons to return their honours.
The statement demanded, “MPs like Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who are openly promoting a culture of physical and sexual violence within sports are barred from contesting elections of sports bodies and the BJP ensure that he is not a candidate for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections."

Text:

We, the undersigned women, human rights, and other social groups, have been pained once again by the recent events of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). We are happy that the Sports Ministry suspended the newly elected panel, that was led by Sanjay Singh, business partner and loyalist of the outgoing WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (MP), whose intention was to wield full control of the WFI on all matters. This was amply demonstrated when slogans were raised at Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s official MP residence in Delhi soon after ‘his’ victory. In a blatant display of his raw power, posters of him saying “dab daba to hai, dab daba toh rahega" (We dominate, our domination will prevail) were put up. The new president, further, did away with due-diligence and unilaterally announced without consulting the executive committee of WFI, the hosting of the nationals of under 20s and under 15s in Nandini Nagar, Gonda, in the fiefdom of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh in UP.
On December, 24, 2023, the Sports Ministry announced that they were suspending (not terminating) the new committee till further notice, for not having followed due diligence and for having taken hasty decisions. However, adequate notice was not given to the participating wrestlers for the nationals. Here, as well, due process and the rules that governs the WFI were not followed.
This initiative of the sports ministry in effect, is too little, and has come too late. It is more than a year after our wrestlers have waged a herculean struggle on the streets for justice against sexual violence and putting the legal requirement of an Internal Complaints Committee in place. This was an opportune moment for them to give a very clear message while suspending the panel to the wrestling and the larger sports community that there is zero tolerance for sexual violence and that a panel which promotes this culture had no space in the sports world of India. Since suspension can be revoked and the same team would return, termination was the action required against the new panel, reassuring the players that the Ministry’s commitment towards women’s dignity was paramount.
This announcement came after India’s first Olympic medal winner in women’s wrestling, Sakshi Mallik, declared her formal withdrawal from the sport in a press conference on 21st December, 2023. Her grounds for withdrawal were based on no guarantee of a safe and secure place for women wrestlers, that was free from sexual harassment. For her, continuing in the wrestling sport arena, would mean humiliation, and make it impossible to play the game in an intimidating environment.
Sakshi’s gesture was followed by Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia, returning the Padmashri award, which he said was now a suffocating symbol as the powers that be, who had conferred this honour were really not interested in ensuring justice. Similarly, Deaflympics gold medallist Virendra Singh Yadava, gave a call that all sportspersons must return their honours, if justice must be done to the sportswomen in wrestling and other sports. It was also a call against the monopoly that Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was asserting over the sport. And more recently Vinesh Phogat too has returned the Khel Ratna, saying that such honours have become meaningless and has urged the PM to break his silence against the continued indignity that they as sports women are being subjected to by Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and his loyalists.
We would further like to state that the Ministry of Sports has been selective in its actions. While it has acted against the WFI for lack of due diligence in decision making, not a single federation has been suspended thus far for not implementing the POSH law.
We are celebrating ten years of the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, popularly known as the POSH law, currently. While celebrations are underway all over the country, our champions who brought laurels for the country like Sakshi, Vinesh, Sangeeta and other women wrestlers, have not been assured of this minimum protection, at their ‘workplace’. There has been no strong message that sexual predators will have no space at the helm of affairs and strong action will be taken against such sportsmen and authorities.
Is not the Sports Ministry cognisant that more than 50 % of the national sport bodies do not have internal complaint committees?
Despite 27 years, since the historic Vishakha guidelines were issued by the Supreme Court, that gave the framework on POSH, institutional structures are still denying the existence of sexual harassment in workplaces and perpetrators of violence are roaming free, and are in privileged positions. The Vishakha judgement placed sexual harassment at the workplace in the realm of “human rights abuse”. The 2013 law further clearly defined the workplace, the employer, and employee, widely, including in the workplace any sports complex or stadia, including residential spaces in them and the term employers includes those responsible for supervision, management, just as employees includes trainees and probationers.
Is not the Sports Ministry cognisant that more than 50 % of the national sport bodies do not have internal complaint committees? According to an RTI of the sports ministry, in the decade from 2010 to 2020, only 45 sports women had filed complaints of sexual harassment. To a question in the Rajya Sabha on July 19th 2023, the Sports Minister stated that in the last three years only four aggrieved sportswomen of over forty National sports federation registered complaints, although all sports federation are duty bound to implement the POSH law. Despite detailed instructions by the ministry of youth and sports affairs dated 12.08.2010 and the POSH law coming into force from December 2013, till date, as the numbers demonstrate - internal complaint committee platforms for sportswomen, in either the wrestling federation of India or any dozens of sports bodies, remain non-existent at the national and state levels.
We would like to ask the Sports Ministry and all federations, whether the Supreme Court of India order of October 2023, (Initiatives for Inclusive Foundation Vs UOI), that emphasised Internal Complaints Committee as most crucial for addressing and reporting instances of sexual harassment in the workplace is being implemented. The SCI also issued a comprehensive set of directions to all Governments for the compliance of the POSH law, including suggesting amendment to the rules for better and uniform implementation.
Will the present Union Government and sports ministry prioritise the promotion of a safe and inclusive environment for women in sports? We demand that:
  • MPs like Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who are openly promoting a culture of physical and sexual violence within sports are barred from contesting elections of sports bodies and the BJP ensure that he is not a candidate for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
  • The suspension of the newly elected WFI body be converted to termination of the body, and fresh elections be organised, as the present suspension will mean the return of Brij Bhushan Sharan at the helm, once it is revoked within a time frame.
  • Commitment to combat sexual harassment in sports and other workplaces be undertaken without any delay, with an overall revamp of these bodies. Safety and transparency should be the core on which these bodies are built.
  • Dignity be restored to our struggling champions Sakshi, Vinesh, Sangeeta and others, including Bajrang Punia, who are still at the peak of their career, and they be encouraged to return back to the arena.
  • There be a total revamp in all sports federations by legislation, that 33 percent of all posts be reserved for women and the voter collegium must include outstanding sports persons
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Click here for signatories

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