April 30, 2023

BJP’s Misogyny

MANY of the top wrestlers of the country, including international medal winners, are out protesting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. They have returned to the spot where they first conducted dharna in January since the government and the sports ministry have not acted on the complaints of sexual harassment made by some women wrestlers against the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP, and some of the coaches. 

The sports ministry from the beginning has refused to take the complaints seriously, which is why the wrestlers were forced to sit on dharna in January. The POSH Act states clearly that pending an inquiry, the respondent should be removed from any position of influence which affects the wellbeing of the complainant if she so demands. However the respondent, the BJP MP, continues as the president of the federation.

Following the swell of popular support for the women, the ministry was forced to set up a committee with a mandate of completing the inquiry within a month. However, the report itself was submitted after three months, but the complainants have not received a copy of the report. This again is a violation of the law. It is incumbent to give a copy of any inquiry report to the complainant so that she can appeal to the appellate authority if required. But instead, the ministry has publicly stated that the report points to procedural weaknesses but no sexual harassment.

Then again, before sitting on dharna the women wrestlers had given a written complaint to a police station in New Delhi asking for an FIR to be registered since according to them at least four cases of sexual harassment had taken place in the residence of the said MP under the jurisdiction of the thana, including the case of a minor. The police is duty-bound to register an FIR. However, the Delhi police which is under the home ministry, refused to do so. Once again this is a travesty of the law.

The manner in which the whole affair has been dealt with shows that the government is unwilling to act and is seeking to buy time.  The reason is clear – Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is a six-time MP and an influential member of the ruling party of Gonda and adjoining regions in Uttar Pradesh. He is considered to be a strong man, bahubali, with criminal antecedents and the clout that he wields is useful for the party. The BJP’s attitude to charges of sexual harassment leveled against its leaders and even ministers is one of trying to shield them and avoid action. 

At the time when the wrestlers were protesting in January, there was another complaint against the Haryana sports minister, Sandeep Singh, of sexual harassment from the junior woman coach.  The chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, has refused to drop him from the cabinet and only relieved him of the sports portfolio.  Despite a prolonged agitation by sports persons and women’s organisations demanding his removal from the ministry, the BJP has refused to do so. 

After launching their protest, seven women wrestlers have gone to the Supreme Court regarding the non-registration of FIR by the police.  The court has decided to urgently take up the issue as the bench led by Chief Justice Chandrachud noted that the allegations were serious and issued notice to the police. It seems that if only the court directs them, the police will act. 

The pattern of dismissing sexual harassment charges against its leaders and elected representatives and trying to shield them by the BJP is recurring again and again. One has to only recall the notorious Kuldeep Singh Sengar case in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh in 2017.  Sengar, a BJP MLA, was accused in the rape of a 17-year old minor girl and initially the state government and police sought to shield him. It was only after the public outcry and High Court’s intervention that the CBI was handed over the case and eventually Sengar was arrested and sentenced.

The Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh matter has followed the same pattern. Chief Minister Adityanath recently boasted that “criminals and anti-socials have become a thing of the past” in UP. He should have added that the exception is criminals belonging to the right community and political affiliations. 

(April 26, 2023)

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