Accusations flew thick and fast between under-fire Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and top names in the sport, who held their sit-in protest seeking his arrest over alleged sexual harassment of women wrestlers for the eighth day on Sunday.

Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia declared that getting justice for victims of the alleged sexual harassment will be worth more than even winning a medal at this year’s Asian Games.

Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik who are leading the protests, reiterated their demand for justice while addressing the media at the Jantar Mantar protest site.

The Delhi Police, following Supreme Court’s intervention, filed two FIRs against Singh on Friday, including one under Section 10 of the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) Act as it involved a minor complainant, and another on complaints by six senior wrestlers. The case has been registered under IPC sections 354 (molestation), 354(A) (sexual harassment), 354(D) (stalking) and 34 (common intention).

“We have full faith in the judiciary. This is a battle for justice for India’s daughters. Till the time we get justice, we will continue our struggle,” Punia said. “We will fight till the end, no matter how long it takes.”

With the current protests entering its second week, the training of these top wrestlers to prepare for the Asian Games — it starts in Huangzhou on September 23 — have taken a hit. Malik last competed at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games where she won gold. Vinesh Phogat and Punia followed their CWG gold with a bronze each at last September’s world championships in Belgrade. The trio skipped the nationals in December and the two ranking series in February (Zagreb and Alexandria) that came soon after their January sit-in.

The considerable gap in training and the rise of fresh talent means the seasoned wrestlers have a tough road to Hangzhou ahead of them. The federation, now run by an Indian Olympic Association-appointed ad-hoc committee, is yet to announce dates for the Asian Games trials. The wrestlers have been doing bodyweight exercises and dry training on the road at the protest site.

“We want to play and train for the

Asian Games. We train here as and when we get a chance. But getting justice for India’s daughters will be a bigger medal for me than the Asian Games,” Punia said to thundering applause.

Both Phogat and Punia are defending champions at the Asian Games. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, for the second day running, claimed that the protest was politically motivated.

“I can assure you that 90 percent of Haryana wrestlers support and trust WFI. There is just one family that is protesting. All complainants come from one akhara only which is Mahadev Wresting Academy, and that is run by Deepinder Hooda,” Singh said in Gonda, UP.

Hooda is a Congress Party Rajya Sabha MP, after three terms as Lok Sabha MP.

“You don’t get justice at Jantar Mantar. You have to approach the police and courts. So far, all they did was abuse me. It is only recently that they approached the court. Whatever the court decides will be acceptable to me,” said the BJP MP.

“Akhilesh Yadav (former UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party president) knows me well. He knows the truth,” Singh said when asked about opposition parties visiting the protesters.

Punia accused Singh of politicising their protest.

“He wants to give this struggle a political colour. The day those FIRs were filed against him, he activated his IT Cell to run a defamatory campaign against us. But justice cannot be served on the basis of his tweets. We trust the Supreme Court to deliver justice,” he said.

“Brij Bhushan is claiming that we want to take over the federation. If anyone wants to hold an office in the federation, that individual has to hold an office in a state association. His family is all over various state federations and he is accusing us of trying to make WFI a family affair.”

Responding to Singh’s claims that wrestlers don’t have much support, Phogat said, “You can see the kind of support we have here. Not just Haryana, we have support from various states and across sports. People like Neeraj Chopra and Abhinav Bindra have tweeted in our favour. Nikhat Zareen and Sania Mirza are not from Haryana and have supported us."

The apex court will hear the matter next on May 5.
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