India’s wrestlers delay protest plans to throw medals into Ganges

Athletes are demanding the arrest of their federation president over allegations of sexual harassment

India’s leading wrestlers, including Olympians, have postponed plans to throw their medals into the Ganges river as part of a six-week long protest demanding the arrest of their federation president over allegations of sexual harassment.

These athletes, mainly women, had been camping at a protest site in New Delhi since April 23rd, demanding the resignation and arrest of Brij Bhushan Singh, who has denied all charges of sexual harassment levelled against him.

Mr Singh is a prominent MP from prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Police have registered two charges against him. In one instance, he has been charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, as one of his alleged victims was a minor, which mandates the accused’s immediate arrest.

Mr Singh claims the charges against him are “politically motivated”.


Footage of scores of athletes being forcefully removed by police from their protest site in central Delhi on Sunday, which coincided with Mr Modi inaugurating India’s new parliament building nearby, went viral on social media. The footage featured images of Mr Singh occupying a prominent spot during the inauguration.

Police filed cases of rioting and creating public disorder against the athletes, who claimed that they had been treated like criminals by the authorities for demanding their rights under law.

The athletes moved their protest to Haridwar, a small town 240km north of Delhi on the banks of the Ganges river – considered sacred by most Indians. They planned to throw their medals into the river, but were dissuaded from doing so by local leaders.

“This holy river is the perfect custodian of our medals, not the system that shields the offender,” the athletes said in a statement on Monday.

The athletes, who include Olympic medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, have given the federal BJP government five days to effect Mr Singh’s arrest, before initiating an indefinite hunger strike at India Gate, a war memorial in Delhi.

The police action against the women wrestlers has elicited condemnation from the International Olympic Committee, which called for an “unbiased” and speedy investigation into the sexual harassment charges against Mr Singh.

United World Wrestling, the international governing body for amateur wrestling, expressed disappointment over the pace of the inquiry against Singh.

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi