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Indian wrestler says she told Modi about harassment

[Press center8] time:2023-06-06 10:55:38 source:ABC News author:Press center4 click:85order

Vinesh Phogat, one of India's top wrestlers who is currently taking part in a protest demanding action against their federation's chief, has said that she had complained about him to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2021.

The wrestlers, including Olympic medal winners, have been protesting for almost two weeks in the national capital Delhi.

They have raised several allegations - including sexual harassment of female wrestlers whose identities have not been revealed - against Wrestling Federation Of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Mr Singh has denied all the allegations.

"When I met the prime minister after the Tokyo Olympics, I had told him about the mental torture and harassment we are facing. I did not tell him about the sexual harassment though," Phogat claimed in an interview with the BBC.

Mr Modi and most senior federal ministers have not commented on the issue yet.

According to Phogat, Mr Modi reassured her and said: "You need not worry, I am here for you people. Nobody can trouble or harass you. We are here."

Phogat alleged that she later met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and told him about all their concerns, including the claim of sexual abuse. But, she alleges, Mr Singh found out about the complaint because of a "leak" from the sports ministry.

Mr Thakur did not reply to the BBC's request for comment on the allegations raised by Phogat.

Mr Singh is an influential politician and lawmaker from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Last week, the Delhi Police filed two cases against him - including one under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, based on a minor's complaint - after the wrestlers filed a petition in the Supreme Court. But he has not been questioned or arrested yet.

Mr Singh told BBC Hindi's Anant Zanane that the police have not contacted him and that he would fully co-operate with the investigation when they did.

"I have not misbehaved with anybody or harassed anyone, nor have I done any injustice to anyone. I have treated them like children of my own family. I gave them love and respect. Unfortunately, that is now becoming a problem for me," he said in an interview.

Mr Thakur said earlier this week that an arrest cannot be made "without a detailed investigation into the matter". He had also recently said that sports and athletes were priorities for the government and that he would not make any compromises in the matter.

Mr Singh also questioned why the wrestlers were protesting when the investigation was going on.

"Don't they trust the Delhi police? Will the Delhi police investigation conclude if I resign? I will not resign as a criminal," he said.

But Phogat says that she and other wrestlers are unsure how they can continue the sport after complaining against such a "powerful" person who still hasn't been arrested.

"Our families are very anxious and worried. Should he not be arrested? If this was a case against any ordinary person wouldn't that person be arrested?"

When the BBC visited Jantar Mantar, the designated protest site where the wrestlers have been sitting, there were strict security measures in place.

The area around the wrestlers was cordoned off with police barricades and entry to the site was regulated.

Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia are some of India's most decorated wrestlers. Malik and Punia have Olympic medals while Phogat has world championship ones.

They were either resting or answering phone calls through the day. The protesters have endured searing heat, rain and mosquitoes over the past few days. Many of their supporters seemed angry that electricity had been cut off at the site.

Imran Kaler says that he has deep respect for all the protesters.

"I have known Punia for decades. He is an Olympic-medal winner. No amount of respect can be enough for him. I request that the government listen to these young people," he said.

Sania, 17, a kabaddi player, had come to visit the protesters with her brother.

"Today this has happened to these athletes. Tomorrow it can happen to us. I want all girls to come here and sit in their support. Today, I came alone but tomorrow I will bring my whole team here," she said.

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(editor-in-charge:Press center9)

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