The First Information Report (FIR) against Wrestling Federation of India Chief and BJP leader Brij Bhushan Singh alleges a decade-long—from 2012 to 2022—pattern of sexual harassment, stalking, bullying and abuse against female athletes, especially the young. Though the FIR alleges a pattern of abuse over a long period of time, many athletes talk about alleged incidents from a September 2022 training camp in Lucknow.
Singh, a six-time MP (five times with BJP, once with Samajwadi Party), was appointed the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) in 2011.
Olympians and wrestling championship winners have taken to the streets to protest Singh’s “predatory behaviour” and “bullying tactic”. Though Indian laws do not allow one to reveal the identity of a sexual assault survivor, many of the protesting wrestlers are complainants and have openly spoken out about their horrifying experiences.
After 38 days of dharna, Delhi Police on May 28 forcefully dismantled the protest site and detained the wrestlers even as barely two kilometres away Singh was seen at the new Parliament building which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi.
On May 30, the wrestlers pushed back their plan to immerse their medals in The Ganga giving the Centre five days to act on their complaint and arrest Singh.
Singh, however, has junked the allegations against him claiming the laws are being “misused”. In fact, Singh along with Hindu seers from Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh have declared their intent to force the government to amend POCSO laws.
Decade-long pattern of abuse, threats and bullying: Wrestlers tell all in FIR
The Delhi Police on April 21 received seven written complaints from female wrestlers, including from a minor, who sought action against Singh’s predatory behaviour, bullying tactics and incidents of sexual harassment across the country and abroad. The contents of the FIR before the Delhi Police outline a similar modus operandi and a pattern of alleged abuse that included Brij Bhushan Singh targeting young female athletes in their prime or just starting out. The complaint claims that Singh often touched them inappropriately and would lift their T-shirts to run his hands on their breasts and stomach on the pretext of checking/examining the women wrestlers’ ‘breathing’.
The FIR further alleges how women athletes were called to the federation’s office in the capital and forced them to meet Singh alone in his office, often forcing their companions to wait outside or in one instance leave the office premises entirely. Almost all the complainants recall leaving the office shell-shocked and in tears from the trauma they faced at the hands of their abuser.
Singh—called ‘Netaji’ by his staff, the administration, coaches and wrestlers of the federation—has been accused of outraging a woman’s modesty, making sexually coloured remarks, stalking and Section 10 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act which is related to aggravated sexual assault against a minor. All charges are cognizable and non-bailable which means the police can arrest without a warrant and bail is not a matter of right.
The wrestlers confessed that Singh allegedly threatened to ruin their careers if they didn’t accept advances. Athletes have claimed Singh told some of them: “Zyada smart ban rahi hai, aage koi competition nahi khelne kya tumhe?” (are you acting smart, you don’t want to participate in future competitions?); “Tu mereko support kar, main tereko support karuga, mere saath touch main rehna,” (You support me and I wil support you. Stay in touch with me),
According to the FIR, one of the Olympians alleged Singh’s abuse and threats stopped immediately after a few wrestlers met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, a day after the meeting with the PMO, the Sports Ministry called the wrestlers asking them for details of their abuse.
The Olympian—she confessed she was suicidal and under extreme stress—claimed that Singh’s abuse commenced again after a brief respite.
Another medal winner states how Singh’s “goons” have been threatening her and her family members for speaking out.
We did not venture out alone, went in groups
A medal winner recalled that during the Junior Asian Wrestling Championship 2022 in Sofia, Bulgaria the women athletes allegedly stopped venturing out alone for fear of being accosted by Brij Bhushan Singh. When they left their hotel room for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the women athletes would go in groups to avoid meeting the accused alone.
Singh would often try to single out the women athletes from the group and forcefully, against their wishes ask inappropriate personal questions which they were uncomfortable answering, the athletes alleged.
“We never left our hotel rooms alone for fear of being caught alone by the accused and always were going out in groups,” the FIR said.
An injured athlete claimed she was told that the federation would cover her medical bills provided she gave in to sexual advances. “I completely refused to give into the atrocious demands of the accused asking me for sexual favours,” she claimed.
Another said how she was allegedly bribed with supplements she would need in exchange for sexual favours. One spoke of how Singh allegedly put his hands on her buttocks while the team took an official photo. She claimed that when she tried to get away, Singh forcefully held her shoulders to keep her in place.
Almost all narrate how they were scared to speak out because they were in the nascent stages of their career. Many even speak of the difficulties and discrimination they faced after they rebuffed Singh’s inappropriate advances.
An athlete said she was allegedly told that their name would be struck off the trials/camp and wouldn’t be allowed to play if she didn’t meet “Netaji” as per his request.
I fear my deposition before the committee may be tampered with
The seven complainants—including the minor—told Delhi Police that they fear their deposition submitted before the committee constituted to probe sexual harassment allegations will be tampered with.
The wrestlers even fear that their deposition before the Sports Ministry-constituted committee has not been entirely recorded as the camera kept going on and off while they were narrating their ordeal. The wrestlers have also been denied a copy of their own deposition.
In April, the Delhi Police filed an FIR against Brij Bhushan Singh after wrestlers moved Supreme Court seeking their intervention and pleading for justice. However, since six complaints have been filed by wrestlers who are above 18, one complainant is a 17-year-old minor. Therefore the judiciary is faced with a dilemma: Which court will hear this matter — A special MP/MLA court? or a POCSO court?
On May 30, the Delhi High Court issued notices to its Registrar General, Delhi government and Delhi Police seeking their response to this dilemma.