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India’s wrestling chief charged in sexual harassment case

<i>AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (C) arrives to address a press conference in Gonda on January 20.
AFP/Getty Images
Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (C) arrives to address a press conference in Gonda on January 20.

By Rhea Mogul, CNN

(CNN) — Delhi police on Thursday formally pressed charges against Indian wrestling chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, following weeks of protests by female athletes over claims of sexual harassment.

Singh has been accused of assault, stalking, and sexual harassment, senior Delhi police official Suman Nalwa told CNN.

“The charge sheet has been filed in the court and now the rest of the proceedings will be taking place in the court itself, where the court will be framing the charges and the trial,” she said.

Singh, who denies all allegations of sexual harassment, has not been arrested.

While Singh was initially accused of harassing a minor, he has not been charged under India’s child abuse laws because the alleged victim and their father had revoked their accusations, Nalwa said.

CNN has reached out to Singh and some wrestlers who have participated in the protests for comment.

The charges come months after some of India’s top female wrestlers accused Singh – who is also a powerful politician from the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – of sexual harassment, staging weeks of protests and demanding his arrest.

Delhi police were initially criticized for being slow to act on the allegations, but launched an investigation in late April following an intervention by the Supreme Court.

Singh has alleged – without providing evidence – that opposition parties were behind the protests.

The wrestlers’ protest has become a flashpoint of criticism against the ruling establishment, with rights activists and opposition politicians accusing the authorities of blocking the course of justice.

Among those leading the protests were Olympians Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, whose rise to prominence in the male-dominated sport brought joy and pride to millions in the country.

But for months, their faces have been plastered across television screens for very different reasons.

Late last month, they were detained by police as they attempted to march to New Delhi’s historic center, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating the country’s new Parliament building – an event Singh attended.

In a chaotic escalation of events, officers “forcefully dragged and detained” the protesters, Malik told reporters from inside a police vehicle before being driven away. Police said they had failed to follow officers’ orders.

The protesters were released shortly after, but their protest site has been dismantled by the police, forcing them to stop their demonstrations.

In the days following their detention, and in an act of desperation, some of the wrestlers vowed to throw their Olympic medals in the Ganges river.

“These medals decorating our necks no longer mean anything,” they said in a statement. “What is the point of life when you compromise on dignity?”

Video and photos showed the wrestlers sobbing on the banks of the holy river, stopping short of relinquishing their medals after an intervention by an influential farmers’ union leader.

But the dramatic scenes set the stage for a final countdown for charges to be leveled against Singh, with demonstrators urging police to act quickly.

The allegations against Singh came to light in January, when several leading wrestlers demanded an inquiry into claims of sexual harassment by younger athletes against him.

In a letter addressed to the president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and shared on Twitter, five leading wrestlers said they wanted to create a “safe and secure place” for young wrestlers, especially sportswomen.

Soon after the letter was made public, Phogat and others took to the streets, demanding Singh’s dismissal. At the time, the WFI denied the allegations but said an inquiry was underway.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Sania Farooqui contributed reporting.

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