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‘Truth needs to come out’ — wrestlers’ protest against WFI chief triggers a political storm

The protesters have not divulged details about the allegations made and said they will tell the whole story to PM Narendra Modi or Home minister Amit Shah only.

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New Delhi: Several wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Sangeeta Phogat, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, continued their protest for the second day Thursday over sexual harassment allegations against BJP MP and Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, world champion Vinesh had levelled allegations of systemic sexual exploitation of women wrestlers at camps, by the federation chief and several coaches.

The protesters have not divulged details about the alleged incidents of harassment and said they will tell the whole story to Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home minister Amit Shah only. Viinesh also alleged that the players have received death threats.

Commonwealth medallist and BJP leader Babita Phogat, who reached the protest site Thursday, told the media, “I have assured the wrestlers that the government is with them, and we’ll try to resolve their issues today itself.”

Wrestling coach Mahavir Phogat also joined the protests Thursday.

Babita, who is the deputy director at Haryana’s Sports and Youth Affairs Department, also tweeted in solidarity with the protesting wrestlers.

Olympic champion Punia said the wrestlers were going to parley with Babita, who, he said,  came to Jantar Mantar to mediate between the protesting wrestlers and the government.

Punia, Mallik, Sangeeta and Vinesh, meanwhile, also went to the Union sports ministry at Shashtri Bhawan Thursday afternoon for a meeting with officials.

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Demand to suspend WFI chief

The allegations against the WFI chief and other coaches have triggered a political storm. Veteran BJP leader Brij Bhushan has been the unopposed president of the federation for the past 12 years. He also has four criminal cases against him.

The federation president had Wednesday denied the allegations levelled against him, saying he “can be hanged even if one complainant comes forward”. He is also said to have called Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur Thursday to ‘clarify’ the charges.

The Congress also lent its support to the protesters and demanded that PM Modi address these allegations and reassure women citizens.

“These are grave allegations of sexual exploitation that international wrestling stars have alleged. The truth needs to come out, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should reassure the nation that no daughter in the country will ever go through this kind of an ordeal,” Congress General Secretary and former president of its Haryana state unit, Kumari Selja, told reporters.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also said a probe into the allegations should be ordered.

The party also demanded immediate suspension of Brij Bhushan and alleged that the government has been trying to “cover up” the protests.

“The government’s responsibility is to tell us what the truth is. Why are they trying to initiate a parley between the players and the federation? What is the need of mediation? The government knows there’s some truth to these allegations,” Selja added.

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