The daughters of our country are leaving no stone unturned to touch the sky in every field of life, but it is unfortunate that the eyes of the hungry wolves are fixed on them.
Right from hockey to football, table tennis, kabaddi, taekwondo, athletics to sports organisations, they keep landing in controversies due to favouritism and various other reasons. Many a time, the Supreme Court has also had to make rules, but the agitation by the women wrestlers of India is much more serious than any other row. This is an unprecedented protest and it should not be seen through any partisan prism. It is essential to bring out the whole truth behind the serious allegations of sexual harassment levelled by the women wrestlers of the country because any such allegation is a matter of grave concern.
The wrestlers who have levelled allegations against the president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and who are sitting on dharna are not ordinary people. Be it Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik or Bajrang Punia, all have brought laurels to India at the international level. Their achievements have enhanced the honour of the tricolour. They have made crores of Indians proud with their unmatched performance. There is a saying in our country that there is no smoke without fire. Therefore, if there is smoke, there must be a fire somewhere. Where is this fire and how did it start? Unless and until it is investigated, the truth will not come out. Vinesh Phogat had categorically said earlier also that the WFI president had sexually exploited many girls. Many coaches of the federation even allegedly misbehave with the women coaches. Sakshi Malik also made similar allegations. Bajrang Punia also came forward in her support. So many allegations cannot be made just like that! No girl puts her honour at stake unless it is too much to tolerate, that’s why this agitation was resorted to! The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president P T Usha has also expressed concern over this whole episode. She has also been very vocal about the allegations of disorganisation and favouritism in sports organisations. She too got a chance to enter the field after a long delay and after a lot of effort.
It is an accepted tradition in our country that if a person has been accused of any serious allegation, he should step down from his post so that there is no hindrance in bringing out the truth. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s statement that “I have not become president at anyone’s mercy, I am an elected president, why should I resign?” is uncalled for.
Many sporting organisations have been embroiled in controversies from time to time for different reasons. But the protest by the women wrestlers of India at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar over the allegations of sexual harassment against WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is too serious a controversy to be ignored. This protest should not be seen through any partisan prism.
However, when the sports minister Anurag Singh Thakur announced the formation of an oversight committee and the IOA formed a seven-member committee, the wrestlers called off their protest. The sports minister has also suspended an official and cancelled the ranking tournament. Let’s hope that the investigation into the allegations will also be carried out with complete transparency. However, in the world of sports, allegations of sexual exploitation and playing with the honour of sportswomen have been made earlier too. Only last year, a female cyclist accused her coach of sexual harassment. She had filed a written complaint with the Sports Authority of India (SAI). SAI and the Cycling Federation of India had also formed a panel to investigate the matter. You will be surprised to know that over the last 10 years, SAI received 45 complaints of sexual harassment and 29 of them were against the coach. Unfortunately, things like what investigation was carried out on the complaints, how many were found guilty and how many were punished, are never made public. Why is it so? You must remember that Sandeep Singh, a former hockey player and the then minister of state for sports of Haryana, was accused of molestation by a coach of the women’s hockey team and Singh had to resign.
As for the allegations of women wrestlers, it is being argued that they should have first complained to the internal committee. Workplaces, sports institutes, training places, stadiums and sports complexes come under the Sexual Harassment Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act 2013. There is an internal committee under this Act. From the legal point of view, there should be 50 per cent women in the internal committee and the chairperson should also be a woman, but only one of the five members of the internal committee of the WFI is a woman. So how could women wrestlers trust that committee?
Regardless of various provisions of law, complaints of sexual harassment have been surfacing continuously. It is still a long shot to curb these shameful acts. I think we have to work on many levels simultaneously to change the shameful trait of molestation and sexual harassment. The law is in its place and law also does its work but the system has to be made very effective and transparent. Also, it is necessary to change the male authoritarian mindset. The tendency ingrained in the society to see girls only as an object has to be dealt with at the level of the society itself. We have to educate our sons that a woman is not just an object. Her thinking and her feelings deserve the same respect as that of a man. Our daughters have also shown the vastness of their abilities in the field of sports. We have to make sure that they can fly freely to the best of their ability. Exploiting someone physically in the name of training is not only a heinous criminal act but also the limit of disgusting mentality. Our culture has been to worship women. We even see our country as our mother. Playing with the honour of daughters in such a country cannot be tolerated at all!
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.