Chandigarh: Support has been pouring in from all quarters of Haryana for the country’s top wrestlers, most of them from the state, sitting on dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi since Wednesday against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Led by Olympics bronze medalists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and world championship winner Vinesh Phogat, the protesters have accused Singh of sexually harassing women wrestlers.
The allegations come close on the heels of sexual harassment charges against Haryana minister Sandeep Singh. Singh, who was accused of sexual harassment by a woman athletics coach, has since relinquished his sports portfolio, but continues in the state cabinet.
Meanwhile, opposition parties in Haryana, families of the wrestlers on dharna and even several khaps in the state have come out in support of the protest at Jantar Mantar and sought an investigation into the allegations.
In Chandigarh, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said the government has taken the concerns of the players seriously and the Union Sports ministry has sought WFI’s response within 72 hours. The CM added: “The safety of our women athletes is very important and we take it seriously. We will not let their morale down.”
Digvijay Singh Chautala, secretary general of the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), the BJP’s partner in the coalition government, said the sentiments of the wrestlers must be respected. Addressing a press conference in Chandigarh Thursday, Chautala pointed out that most of the players sitting in protest are from the state. He demanded that action be taken against the guilty.
On the sexual harassment charges against minister Sandeep Singh, Chautala said there should be a complete investigation in that case also and justice delivered, according to the press note released later.
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Panchayats, politicians back stir
Meanwhile, families of the wrestlers have also said they will go to Delhi to support their children in this struggle.
Vinesh’s cousin and BJP leader Babita Phogat, who is also the chairperson of Haryana Women Development Corporation Limited at Panchkula, visited the dharna site Thursday and assured the agitating wrestlers that she will try to find a solution.
A Sarv Jatiya Khap Mahapanchayat was also held in Charkhi Dadri Thursday. Calling the allegations against the WFI president serious, the meeting said, “…the entire matter should be probed by a retired judge, and the WFI chief should be sacked and further action as per law should be initiated.” The khaps also discussed marching to Delhi in support of the wrestlers.
Balwant Singh, chief of Phogat Khap, told The Print Friday that representatives of seven khaps of Charkhi Dadri had attended the meeting. These were: Phogat Khap, Sangwan Khap 44, Sheoran Khap 25, Satgama, Chiriya Khap, Haveli Khap Kadma and Pawar Khap 32, he added. “We are already on way to Delhi and will be at Jantar Mantar by the afternoon,” he said.
Former chief minister and Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda Thursday came out strongly in support of the players protesting against the WFI. In a press note, he said it was a matter of great misfortune and shame that the players, the pride of the country, are having to protest on the streets.
He said sportspersons who bring glory to the country are being forced to sit on a dharna. “Serious allegations have been levelled against the WFI and its president by women wrestlers. The federation should be dissolved and all the accused be investigated,” he said.
Accusing the Haryana government of failing to act when sportspersons from the state were seeking justice at Jantar Mantar, Hooda alleged that the state government has also kept mum when a woman coach had levelled sexual harassment charges against minister Sandeep Singh.
Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Singh Chautala alleged that the BJP government was out to save its MP. According to a press note issued by him, Chautala demanded an immediate arrest of both WFI chief Singh and Sandeep Singh.
Rajya Sabha Member Deepender Hooda has also demanded immediate action in the matter. “It is unfortunate that our wrestlers had to protest after they were not heard by their federation. I demand that the Government of India should take immediate action by suspending the Wrestling Federation of India,” Hooda said in a statement Thursday.
Meanwhile, Jagmati Sangwan, national vice-president of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), said in a recorded message distributed shared with media personnel that the wrestlers’ allegations show how women athletes are treated by some of those sitting in positions of power in sports bodies.
“The BJP-JJP government is still to dismiss and arrest minister Sandeep Singh who is accused of sexually harassing a woman athlete. Now, wrestlers of international repute are levelling similar allegations against BJP MP and WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and the government is still silent,” she alleged.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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