Leading Indian wrestlers have called off their sit-in protest after the country’s wrestling body chief agreed to step down over allegations of sexual harassment.
At least 200 athletes, including India’s most decorated wrestling stars and Olympians, began a silent sit-in protest near parliament in the national capital after Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Singh was accused of sexually exploiting at least 10 women.
The three-day-long protest, which sent shockwaves in India’s wrestling community, came to an end after sports minister Anurag Singh Thakur promised to set up an oversight committee to investigate the accusations.
The agitated protesters braved Delhi’s chilly winter nights at the sit-in and demanded Mr Singh’s resignation.
During a late-night meeting with protesters that ended after midnight on Saturday, Mr Thakur said the committee would submit a report in four weeks and Mr Singh will not lead WFI for the period.
“Any allegation, whether sexual harassment or financial wrongdoing, we will dive deep and investigate them. We will take action after that,” Mr Thakur said.
He also said the federation president “will step aside and help in carrying out the probe”.
“Until then, a committee will carry out day-to-day work,” he added.
Following the meeting, Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia said: “We are ending our protest.”
He said that prime minister Narendra Modi had promised to support the athletes.
“Thank the government on behalf of all my fellow players for taking our agitation and demands seriously,” he said in a tweet. “Our fight is not with the government. We are all fighting against the players federation and its president.”
The protest was being led by Mr Punia, Olympian Sakshi Malik and Commonwealth and Asian Games medalist Vinesh Phogat.
Ms Phogat, who has won gold medals at both the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, accused Mr Singh of sexually harassing several women athletes.
“Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan. Some of the coaches appointed at national camps have been sexually harassing women wrestlers for years. The WFI president is also involved in sexual harassment,” she said.
While she said she had not faced sexual harassment herself, she “knows of dozens of women who have come up to her with their accounts”.
On Friday, the wrestlers wrote a letter to the head of the Indian Olympic body PT Usha, a decorated retired Indian track and field athlete, seeking action against Mr Singh.
The letter stated that Phogat “contemplated suicide” as she was “mentally harassed and tortured” by Mr Singh after she missed out on an Olympic medal in Tokyo.
They said “they fear for their lives” and Ms Phogat has agreed to reveal the identity of other sexual harassment survivors to the Indian Olympic Association committee.
Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has also formed a seven-member committee to investigate the allegations.
IOA members including Olympians boxer Mary Kom, archer Dola Banerjee and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt have joined the panel.