Reminding me of the intensity of the #MeToo movement, a hashtag calling for the #BoycottWFIPresident has been demanding Indian social media’s attention this past few weeks.
Leading these calls for boycott are several national wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malikkh, and Bajrang Punia, to name a few, who rose their voice against multiple incidences of sexual and mental harassment committed over the years by the Wrestling Federation of India’s (WFI) president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, as well as other coaches.
During their sit-down protest at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, the players staged their agitation in simple words: “we will not compete in any international competition until the WFI president is removed. This is a fight to save Indian wrestling.”
The WFI President has trivialised the wrestlers’ conviction to speak up against gendered violence and has continually refused to step down. Bhushan Singh amongst others supporting him have defended themselves by stating that “if there were complaints against me or some coaches, they should have come forward earlier.” There however, has been no apology issued by the WFI or any of its members.
However, it is worth mentioning that the absence of an actively functioning Internal Committee (IC) on sexual harassment in the WFI might have been a deterrent faced by wrestlers who were wanting to lodge formal complaints against those in the power.
The current IC listed on the WFI’s website has only one female member among the five members, who happens to be a protesting wrestler, Sakshi Malikkh. The current IC also does not have an external member. The idea of having an external member is to ensure an independent voice without institutional bias.
Clearly, the constitution of this committee by the WFI fails to follow the PoSH Act 2013, which was implemented to ensure a safe workplace for women, especially one that is void of any kind of harassment.
When the wrestlers demanded the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to immediately facilitate the appointment of a committee to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment, the resignation of the current WFI President, the dissolution of the WFI, and the formation of a new committee to run the affairs of the WFI in consultation with the wrestlers, they received a disheartening response.
While the current operations of the WFI have been suspended temporarily, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs appointed an Oversight Committee without consulting the players. Expressing their disappointment on social media, the players have rightfully demanded their voice be heard and respected.
The wrestlers have articulated their disappointment when they were selected for the upcoming Zagreb Open – an international wrestling tournament taking place in Croatia – but withdrew their names from the list. This includes 7 of the top players including Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat who have made it clear that they will no longer remain silent.