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    Indian wrestlers pause protest after meeting sports minister


    Jun 8, 2023

    NEW DELHI — India’s top wrestlers have suspended their protests after a senior minister promised them a swift investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against their federation chief.

    The protesters have been camping in Delhi since April, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

    On Wednesday, they met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and held talks that lasted nearly six hours. Thakur said the police would complete an investigation against Singh by June 15.

    He said the wrestlers had assured him that they would not hold any demonstrations till then.

    The government has also promised to hold elections to the executive committee of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) by June 30 and said that neither Singh, nor any of his close associates, would have a role in the new panel.

    “It is better for the country to have the award-winning grapplers on the mat than on the roads,” Thakur told The Indian Express newspaper after the meeting.

    The wrestlers first began protests in January but called it off the same month after India’s sports ministry stripped Singh of his administrative powers for a few weeks and the government promised to investigate their complaints.

    But the protests restarted in April, with the wrestlers calling for his arrest.

    Singh, who is also an influential MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has denied the allegations and accuses the wrestlers of being “politically motivated”.

    Last month, the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were briefly detained as they tried to march to India’s new parliament. The police also filed cases including of rioting against them.

    Visuals of the athletes being dragged and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians.

    On 30 May, the wrestlers threatened to dump their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river — following which a delegation of protesters met Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence last week.

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United World Wrestling (UWW) — the sport’s international governing body — also issued statements condemning the way the wrestlers have been treated. They also criticized the “lack of results” in the investigations against Singh.

    So far, the police have filed two cases against Singh, including one under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO).

    Singh has said that the law was being misused. He has been questioned by the police but not arrested yet.

    On Wednesday, Olympic medalist Bajrang Punia, who was part of the delegation that met Thakur, said the government had assured them that they would complete the police investigations against Singh by next week.

    “But if no action is taken by June 15, we will continue our protest,” he added. BBC

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