As the clock strikes 11.30, they all rise to sing the national anthem. Some days ago, farmers from Haryana had broken through police barricades to join them. Khap panchayats, too, have lent their support. And on the wrestlers’ plea, the country’s top court issued a notice to the Delhi Police after which two FIRs were registered against Singh.
Ask sportspersons across the playing field and they say sexual harassment in sports is not uncommon but is often hushed.
A national-level athlete, who does not wish to be named, tells Business Standard that there are senior coaches who try to take advantage of young female players.
The next morning, she says, the coach appeared livid. He rebuked the junior player and made the senior team run an extra 10 laps without any explanation. “I believe it was our instinct that saved the girl from something horrible that day,” says the athlete.
“The onus of reporting such instances is on the women,” says the athlete, adding, “They should come forward and talk more openly about it, though I understand the many reasons they don’t do that.”
In Indian sports, where most of the disciplines and federations are male-dominated and where men hold positions of power, speaking out becomes all the more difficult, the players Business Standard spoke to say.
One such incident rocked the cycling world in June last year when a top Indian cyclist accused coach RK Sharma of sexual harassment during a training tour in Slovenia. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) terminated Sharma’s contract.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) was the only one that replied. “We haven’t received any complaints in recent times. There is a complaint committee with an external member on it,” NRAI Secretary Rajiv Bhatia said via email. “The committee conducted a workshop at Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in New Delhi on February 13, 2023 where all athletes, coaches, support staff and federation officials were present,” he said.
Grover points out that the Vishaka guidelines and the PoSH Act 2013 are structured on an understanding that these cases should be taken up within the office or institution, “where women will be comfortable in reporting them to committees and will get a hearing.” She says, “The difficulties arise, as in the present [wrestlers’] situation, when the allegations are against a person at the top of the pyramid because the mechanism assumes that this person will discharge his duties fairly.”
“We are dealing with a dysfunctional system here,” says Grover, adding that, “what we are seeing today is that ‘who the accused is’ matters and the law is neither able nor willing to function the way the legal machinery is envisaged.”