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Wrestlers Protest Brings Spotlight Back On Sexual Harassment Allegations In Indian Sports

On Tuesday, Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat went to Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar along with their supporters to throw their medals in the Ganga. However, they relented after khap and farmer leaders sought five days' time to address their grievances

Protest in solidarity with wrestlers
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Sexual harassment allegations are not uncommon in the sports industry, especially in India. The recent allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh are not the first time that sportswomen have spoken out against the misuse of power. 

On Tuesday, Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat went to Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar along with their supporters to throw their medals in the Ganga. However, they relented after khap and farmer leaders sought five days' time to address their grievances.

Here are some other instances of sexual misconduct in the sports industry.

One morning in 2008, award-winning female boxer S. Amaravathi did not show up for practice. After some investigation, the 21-one-year-old was found dead in Lal Bahadur Stadium. She had taken her own life because she could not face the endless harassment from her coach, Omkar Yadav, her family members reportedly said.  According a report by the Times of India, the young woman died by swallowing sleeping pills, and no suicide note was found. 

In 2022, a young cyclist filed a complaint against her coach, R.K. Sharma, who behaved inappropriately with her on multiple occasions. Sharma reportedly told the cyclist that she would have to share a room with him when they were travelling to Slovenia for the national team’s camp. She informed a senior SAI official, who booked her a separate room immediately – but the harassment didn’t stop there. Sharma invited the athlete to his room for a ‘post-training massage’ – when she declined, he forced himself into her room, according to a report by Indian Express. 

Sports Authority of India on June 8 terminated the contract of chief cycling coach R.K. Sharma, acting on a preliminary report of an inquiry committee.

Complaints were also filed against Coach P. Nagarajan by multiple female athletes, initiated by a 19-year-old athlete who claimed to have been sexually abused by Nagarajan from 2013 to 2020. A police statement regarding this incident said, “The complainant along with other girls has been training under Nagarajan since 2013. On many occasions, after the day’s training, he would send off the other girls, lure her into a small room, and under the pretext of providing physiotherapy, would touch her inappropriately. Despite her pleading and resisting, he stated that he would help her succeed in athletics only if she cooperated. The same has happened with other girls as well.”

Another complainant told the Indian Express, “When I was in 8th grade, Nagarajan said he wanted to improve my long jump technique. He asked me to come an hour before everyone. So if everybody got there at 4 pm, I would reach at 3. He would say at around 4 o’clock to act as if I am just walking in. It sort of struck me like I am getting special training and that he doesn’t want others to know because they are going to be upset. I was still part of a team and I didn’t want to lose my friends over this. So that was the set-up.”

When the allegations were first made against Nagarajan, he reportedly attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills, but failed – he was arrested as soon as he was discharged from the hospital. 

Sexual harassment against athletes and players in the sports industry is a grave issue in India. The ongoing agitation by wrestlers brings the spotlight back on action that needs to be taken to prevent further crimes. 

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