‘Outcome of wrestlers’ protest to influence families’ attitude towards women in sport’

New Delhi: Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang Punia said on Friday that the outcome of the wrestlers’ protest will decide if the progressive change in the attitude of families towards women in sport will continue.
“In our society and country, families don’t even know what sexual harassment is. There are so many women wrestlers who stepped aside because of this. About 14-15 women complained to the initial committee that was made to address this issue, but when it came to filing a complaint with the police, only seven were left. There were others who didn’t come forward at all,” Bajrang said at Jantar Mantar, adding it takes enormous strength for women to speak up in cases of this nature.
Bajrang, along with other top wrestlers Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat, have been protesting in New Delhi demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, alleging sexual harassment and exploitation of women wrestlers. Seven women – including a minor – have come forward with their complaints and FIRs have been filed against Singh as well as federation’s assistant secretary Vinod Tomar.
“Over time, I’ve seen a lot of change in society in how they perceive women in sport – especially wrestling. They saw Sakshi win a medal at the Olympics, medals were coming at the World Championships, and slowly families began changing their attitude,” he said. “But after finding out the problems that have surfaced here, who will want to send their daughters into sports?”
These statements were made on the day Delhi Police gave a status report in court regarding their investigation against Singh, informing that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been formed to deal with the case. The Indian Express reported that both Singh and Tomar have been questioned by Delhi Police twice, and that the cops have recorded the statement of the minor victim before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on Wednesday.
The report also reveals that the police have obtained the report of the Oversight Committee, formed in January when the wrestlers first came out on the streets to protest.
Bajrang welcomed the formation of the SIT and is hopeful that a swift and just inquiry will take place, but is sceptical about the oversight committee’s report. “If you go by what the committee has to say, you will think that Brijbhushan is a picture of innocence,” he said.
“We had high expectations from the committee. There were former sportspersons in it, as well as former officials of sports bodies. We were promised justice, big statements were made,” he added. “The day Brijbhushan came in front of them, they didn’t even have a lawyer present. I accompanied every single woman that made a complaint to the committee, there was a lawyer present for each of them. It is clear now that they had decided beforehand that they would declare him innocent.”
The wrestlers had previously agreed to end their sit-in protest after assurances from the sports ministry and the formation of the oversight committee, but returned to Jantar Mantar due to lack of progress in the case.

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