As the chorus of support for the protesting wrestlers grew, Delhi Police on Friday filed two FIRs against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on allegations of sexual harassment levelled by seven women wrestlers.
The First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed hours after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi Police, told a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha that a case will be registered on Friday.
While the first FIR pertains to allegations of a minor wrestler and was registered under POCSO Act, the second was related to outraging modesty. After Mehta’s submission, the country’s top wrestlers, who have been on a sit-in at Jantar Mantar in Delhi since Sunday demanding action against Singh, rejoiced “the first step towards victory” but said they will continue their agitation. They demanded that the BJP MP be removed from all the positions he holds.
The film and sporting fraternity and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put their weight behind the protesting wrestlers with Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra leading the way calling for “quick action” to ensure that justice is served. Banerjee, who is the chief of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), said the guilty must be brought to book, irrespective of their political affiliation.
Besides Chopra, a champion javelin thrower, ace boxer Nikhat Zareen, tennis star Sania Mirza, hockey player Rani Rampal, renowned former cricketers Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Madan Lal and Navjot Singh Sidhu also came out in support of the wrestlers.
“Shameful that our top International athletes are forced to protest on streets against sexual harassment but accused BJP MP is being consistently shielded by the govt. #IStandWithMyChampions Sack & investigate #BrijBhushanSharanSingh,” actor Swara Bhasker posted on Twitter.
The apex court bench is hearing a plea filed by seven women wrestlers on non-registration of an FIR on their sexual harassment allegations against Singh.
“We have decided to register an FIR. It will be registered today. I don’t think anything survives,” Mehta told the bench.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the wrestlers, placed on record an affidavit in a sealed cover which voiced apprehension about the safety of a minor girl, an alleged victim of sexual assault.
“Bearing in mind the content which has been placed on record, we direct the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, to make an assessment of the threat perception and provide adequate security to the minor girl involved,” the bench said in its order.
It said an affidavit be filed before it on or before May 5, the next date of hearing, about the steps taken for the security of the minor girl.
Sibal said there are seven complainants, including the minor girl, and they all should be given protection.
The bench said its direction for providing security to the alleged minor victim shall not stand in the way of the Commissioner of Police making an independent assessment of the threat perception of the other complainants.
Sibal, while referring to the affidavit, expressed his worries about the safety and security of the protesting grapplers.
Without naming anyone, he said 14 cases are pending against “this gentleman”, including one under section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC).
Mehta said the issue should be left to the city police chief and other responsible officers.
“Mr solicitor, we will record your statement that you are registering an FIR. Second, we will say let Commissioner of Police make an assessment of threat perception on what we have on record,” the CJI said, while making it clear that the apex court is not monitoring the investigation.
Sibal also dwelt on the delay in taking action on the complaint of the protesting sportspersons.
“In January 2023 it is formally told that you do something. They did nothing. Nobody does anything. They set up a committee… these are all part of the records,” he said, requesting for the probe to be monitored by a retired judge.
Sibal said the moment the federation came to know that something like this has happened, under the law, they were supposed to file an FIR.
“What is the responsibility of an organisation of which I am a member?” Sibal said, adding, “They don’t do anything.” Reacting to Mehta’s submission before the top court, wrestler Vinesh Phogat said police might file a “loose FIR”.
“It (Police) might file a loose FIR. We will see, observe then take a decision (on calling off protest). He should be behind the bars and removed from all the posts he holds, otherwise he will try to influence the investigation,” the World Championship medallist said.
“This is first step towards victory but our protest will continue,” Sakshi Malik told reporters at Jantar Mantar, where the wrestlers put up huge banners, with one of those listing all the ongoing criminal proceedings against Brij Bhushan.
Opposition party leaders, meanwhile, hit out at Indian Olympics Association (IOA) President PT Usha for criticising the protests, alleging she has become a “political mouthpiece”.
Usha, a Rajya Sabha member, had condemned the protest, saying the grapplers lacked discipline in hitting the street in support of their demand. She also said their action has tarnished the image of India.
Responding to Usha’s comments, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said ignoring their pleas tarnishes the country’s image, not hearing them out.
Congress MP Deepender Hooda, who met the protesters, called for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the issues raised by the wrestlers to find out who were “protecting” the accused.